On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
‘Tis the season … for staying in and curling up with a good book.
That’s right! It’s our winter book show and we’ve got quite the roster of local literary luminaries.
So, naturally, we want to know:
What’s the best book you read this year and why? Listen and share your favorites.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock and Laura Spitalniak
- Ron Charles Book World Critic, The Washington Post; @RonCharles
- Rion Amilcar Scott Author, "The World Doesn't Require You"; Professor, University of Maryland
- Hannah Oliver Depp Owner, Loyalty Bookstores
- Ebony Flowers Author and Illustrator, "Hot Comb"
The Five Best Books You Read This Decade
How do you choose the best books you read in the past 10 years when you're constantly reading? An impossible question, but we asked anyway. Here's what three local luminaries told us. Ron Charles, Washington Post Book Critic Good grief - this is hard!
KOJO NNAMDIYou tuned into The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. For all you bookworms out there 'tis the season for reading and we want to know what was the best book you read this year and why. We've been asking for your favorite books of 2019. Here's what some of you said.
UNIDENTIFIED CALLERThree, two, one.
MIKAELA LEFRAKThis is Mikaela LeFrak.
SYDNEYThis is Sydney from Washington D.C.
MORA CURRIEMy name is Mora Currie.
ABDULMy name is Abdula Latif and a book of the year that I strongly recommend is "Until We Reckon," by Danielle Sered.
LEFRAKThe best book I read in 2019 was "Eileen," by Ottessa Moshfegh.
CALLERThe best book I read this year was "Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murder: A Definitive Guide" by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.
MADDIEI'm Maddie and I live in D.C. and the best book I read this year was "Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good" by Adrienne Maree Brown.
CURRIEThe best book I read this year was a memoir called "Educated," by Tara Westover.
CALLERMy favorite book that I read this year was "The Friend," by Sigrid Nunez.
CALLERMy favorite book that I read in 2019 was Chanel Miller's memoir called "Know my name."
CALLERSo my favorite book of the year is "The Shadow King," by Mazzie Mengiste.
NNAMDIThe best book I read this year was a novel called "The Nickel Boys," by Colson Whitehead.
CALLEROne of my favorite non-fiction books that I read this year was "She Said," by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.
CALLERSo I think my favorite book that I read this year was "Big Game," by Mark Leibovich.
CALLERMy favorite book that I read this year was "Sersi." Oh, my God, I'm blanking on the author's name, but it was great.
CALLERBook of the year 2019 and there were some fantastic books, but the one that stood out for me is "The Lager Queen of Minnesota." It's a novel by J. Ryan Stradal.
CALLERI'm a fan of baseball and architecture. So there wasn't much doubt that a book about both would be a hit at least for me. The book is "Ballpark: Baseball in the American City," by long time architecture critic Paul Goldberger.
CALLERWhat really struck me about the book was how much strength really came through in her writing.
CALLERThis story is riveting. You can't put it down. The prose is well paced and really delightful to read.
CALLERIt's a master class in investigative journalism and I couldn't recommend it enough.
CALLERI feel like this year was a ton of growth and change, and that book served as a really beautiful and helpful guide.
CALLERIt was such a fantastically well told story.
NNAMDIBig thanks to all of the WAMU staff and listeners, who shared their favorite books from this year. Without further ado it's our Winter Reading Show and we've got quite the roster of local literary luminaries. So whether you're looking to curl up with a brand new book or give the gift of reading this holiday season we've got you covered, because we're talking the very best books of the year. Joining me in studio is Hannah Oliver Depp, Owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth and Silver Spring. Hannah, thank you for joining us.
HANNAH OLIVER DEPPThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Ron Charles. He's a Critic for The Washington Post Book World and Host of the Totally Hip Book Review. Ron, good to see you again.
RON CHARLESThanks for having me.
NNAMDIRion Mailcar Scoot is the Author of the story collection "The World Doesn't Require You." Rion, good to see you.
RION AMILCAR SCOTTGood to see you again, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Colorado is Ebony Flowers, Author and Illustrator of the book "Hot Comb." Ebony Flowers, thank you for joining us.
EBONY FLOWERSHappy to be here.
NNAMDIHannah, I'll start with you. If you had to choose what would you say are the best books you read this year?
DEPPFor me there's--
NNAMDIRemember this show is only an hour long.
DEPPYeah, I would say I have 900. This was a really great year for books. There isn't that single book and that's almost a good thing, because there's been so many fantastic books off of different genres. I utterly loved "Lot," by Bryan Washington. It's a fantastic short story collection taking place in Houston navigating a queer life there in a community that I was completely unaware of. And it's wonderfully written and also like most of what Bryan Washington does will make you hungry for delicious food.
DEPPAdored two romance novels. "Red, White and Royal Blue," which we talked about I think during the summer show, it still stands out as one of the best books I've read all year. It was fun. It was very needed, a little piece of hope in the middle of this year. And then "The Ladies Guide to Celestial Mechanics," which is about two female scientists in the Victorian Era, you know, like you do.
NNAMDIWhat genres were you especially excited about this year?
DEPPI was especially excited about further challenges and pushing and great short stories collections. You know a few years ago people used to say like, "No one wants to read short stories." Rion is here to prove that wrong. And it's been really true. I think especially with people listening on audiobooks, with people reading on their commutes more and more now and taking time to read at the end of their day or at the beginning of their day, short stories have a lot to offer for how we read now. And it's been a really exciting time in the short story world.
NNAMDIAnd you mentioned that Rion Scott is the author of "The World Doesn't Require You." His debut short story collection was "Insurrections." It was awarded the 2017 PEN Bingham Prize for debut fiction. Before we talk about all of that though, Rion, can you tell us two of the best books you read this year.
SCOTTTwo of the best books I read this year, "Avery Colt is a Snake, A Thief, A Liar" by Ron Austin. It's a really really good book. I would like to see a whole lot more people reading that book. The sentences are just -- they pop off the page. Another one is "Sabrina & Corina" by Kali Fajardo. I'm blinking on the second part of her last name, but it's a good -- it's a really incredible short story collection.
NNAMDIEbony Flowers as I said is joining us from Denver. She is the award-winning cartoonist and author of "Hot Comb," a graphic novel examining the culture of hair. Ebony, thank you very much for joining us and adding to this course of literary talent on this panel. Tell us what was the best book you read this year.
FLOWERSOkay. So I should prefaces with saying that I gave birth this year. So I didn't have too much time to read, but I did read a few graphic novels. And two I really enjoyed was "Dear Scarlet," by Teresa Wong and it's a comic she wrote to her daughter about her experience with postpartum depression. And, you know, since I had just had a child some of the things that she drew and wrote about in her story really resonated with me. And then also another comic called "Creation," by Sylvia Nickerson. She's a Canadian based cartoonist and her book about motherhood and then also about gentrification.
NNAMDIWell, Ron Charles, since you're the critic in the room we've saved your picks for last. Of all the books you read this year, what are a few that really stand out?
CHARLESI really liked "Girl, Woman, Other" by Bernadine Evaristo. That's the book that co-won the Booker Prize with Margaret Atwood. It's a book about 12 women in Britain mostly black and their experiences over many years and their friendships and how it evolves. It's beautifully constructed. It's funny. It's sad. I thought it was a remarkable book and I'm glad it won the Booker Prize.
CHARLESAnd then I needed something a little lighter, a little funnier during this year. So we went with "Strangers and Cousins," by Leah Hager Cohen. It's a romantic comedy. It's about a family putting on a wedding for their daughter, but what makes it substantial is it gets into really serious issues about who the others are. Who do we want to come into our community, what happens when we feel threatened by people who are not like us, and how does that challenge our liberal ideals. I think she explores that in a really sensitive interesting way.
NNAMDIJane in Alexandria emailed, My favorite book "The Overstory," by Richard Powers. Great writing. Great story. Ron, let's talk about "Black Leopard Red Wolf," because you wrote, quoting here, "Stand aside Beowulf. There's a new epic hero slashing his way into our hearts. And we may never get all the blood off our hands." Tell us more about this novel written by one of my favorite writers Marlon James.
CHARLESYeah. He's so remarkable. He's already won a Booker Prize himself.
NNAMDIFor "A Brief History of Seven Killings."
CHARLESRight. So he does violence really well and now he turns to African mythology and writes the first of what he said is going to be a trilogy. It's this remarkable book about a lost boy and this group of people and creatures who go across this territory to find him. It's all got all kinds of really creepy characters in it that are horrifically violent sometimes. I didn't always know what was happening, I confess, but I thought it was completely gripping.
NNAMDIYou didn't always know what was happening.
NNAMDIBut you loved -- you loved that it was happening anyway.
CHARLESWell -- am I right?
DEPPYes. It completely destabilizes you, which is I think very much so the point. It's not written in the traditional western narrative style. And it's taking fantasy writing somewhere it's been many times before. But a lot of readers especially in the States are going to be really unfamiliar with and I really appreciated that. And, yeah, just surrender and let the narrative go, just let it happen.
NNAMDII get a lot of that from reading Rion, but that's a whole other story. Ron, this year's MAN Booker Prize was split between Margaret Atwood for her sequel to "The Handmaids Tale" and Bernadine Evaristo whose novel "Girl, Woman, Other" you called a breathe taking symphony of black women's voices and a clear eyed survey of contemporary challenges that nevertheless wonderfully life affirming. Which of these two winners deserves our attention and why?
SCOTTThat's so mean.
CHARLESI think, I just want to say that I think Margaret Atwood is one of the greatest writers of the modern age and she has contributed some of the most important books that I've ever read. "The Testaments" is not one of them. "The Testaments" is a fun sequel that we've all been waiting for to help off finish off the TV show, but that doesn't mean it should win the Booker Prize. That was clearly a lifetime achievement award being wedged into this year's Booker Prize. They should not have done that. Bernadine Evaristo deserved that award by herself as she's been too gracious to say out loud.
NNAMDI"Girl, Woman, Other." Hannah, what do you look for in a winter read? Are there any books you recommend specifically for this time of year?
DEPPI think it depends on if you want a winter read that is going to escape you from the winter or if you really want to burry in. I prefer to just nestle in and really embrace the winter, a little cold, a little tea, a little escape. If you're perhaps interested in being a little more hot under the collar I would escape to Florida and all of its swampy glory with "Mostly Dead Things," by Kristen Arnett and really live in that warmth, live in that tempestuous existence. That will take you right out of a northeast winter.
DEPPFor me, though, since I like to -- I want something that's going to just completely engross me and I'm going to lose track of time and maybe have a picturesque moment of the snow falling outside. And so for that I think something like, you know, a really standout novel like "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous," that really just -- you think you're going to be able to walk away, but you can't. I just love a deeply personal story, intimate family story that's going to pull me in and not let me put it down. Similarly, Carmen Maria Machado's memoir this year "In the Dream House," by no means a light happy read, but certainly completely engrossing. I could not put it down. I stayed up till about 4:00 in the morning finishing it with several cups of tea.
NNAMDIThere was also an impressive selection of audiobooks this year. What were some of your favorites?
DEPPYes. Good question. I think an audiobook for me it has to be read really really well, which is very difficult that it's sometimes, you know, a beautiful book will get short shifted on audio or a book that worked really well in audio that maybe doesn't work as well on the page, because of the reader. For that I often turn to non-fiction especially if the non-fiction is being written by a poet, Saeed Jones audiobook. I really really recommend "How We Fight for Our Lives." That's a great audio that will really compel you and it's beautifully read.
NNAMDII know you listened to "The Witch Elm."
DEPPMm-hmm. Tana French.
NNAMDIHow do you like that?
DEPPYes. So Tana French is most famous for her "Dublin Murder Squad" books and this does not take place in that universe or rather featuring one of those main characters. But it's spooky as all get out. I really really loved it. She's a queen of dialogue and of setting and it works wonderfully in an audiobook and who doesn't love a nice Irish accent reading to you.
NNAMDIHow about "Heavy?"
DEPP"Heavy," Kiese Laymon. That audiobook is dripped in molasses and beautiful storytelling, and his voice is gorgeous. You will not be able to stop listening to that. It's some hard topics, but no one has ever said them better.
NNAMDIHere's Glenda in Alexandria. Glenda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GLENDAHi, good morning, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. Two things. One, the gentleman that was talking about the books that he enjoyed was about the family was putting together the daughter's wedding. What was the title of that book?
CHARLES"Strangers and Cousins" by Leah Hager Cohen.
GLENDAOkay. "Strangers and Cousins." I've got to remember that. And the other thing I wanted to mention, I absolutely love to read and I got turned on to reading not until I was in the ninth grade if you can believe it. But I had this wonderful English teacher that really helped me. And the first book I read was "The Outsiders." I can't remember the name of the author. He was 17 when he wrote the book and it just really wetted my appetite for reading. And then next book that we had in the English class was "Great Expectations," which I fell in love with and that just turned me on to reading. And I never leave home without a book. I just absolutely love it.
NNAMDIAnything you read this year in particular?
GLENDAOh, let's see. What am I reading right now? I can't even remember what I'm reading. I read -- sometimes I have a couple of books going on at the same time.
NNAMDIAs many of us do that.
GLENDAYes. My mother in law usually had a book upstairs and a book downstairs and a book at her work. And I also just wanted to do a shout out. There's a program called Everybody Wins. A lot of the schools in the District have it, and one school in Arlington Francis Scott Key. And it's a reading program for kids and they need lots of volunteers and it's one on one. And the purpose is to sit down and read with the child. Either you read to them, they read to you or together. And it's just to help them learn to love to read. And it's a wonderful program.
GLENDASo if anybody out there has time, they need volunteers.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on winter readings. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking reading books. Lisa tweets that the best book she read this year was "Say Nothing," by Patrick Radden Keefe about the troubles in Northern Ireland. It begins with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, one of the disappeared. Non-fiction and honestly one of the best books I have read or ever read. Thank you, Lisa.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio is Hannah Oliver Depp the Owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth and Silver Spring. Rion Amilcar Scott is the Author of the story collection "The World Doesn't Require You." And Ron Charles is a Critic for The Washington Post, Book World, and Host of the Totally Hip Book Review. Joining us from Colorado is Ebony Flowers, the Author and Illustrator of "Hot Comb." Ron Charles, were there any trends as far as book were concerned this year? Any particular genre that seemed to be publishing more titles than usual or perhaps similarities between the books that appeared at the top of best seller lists?
CHARLESThe trend we've been in since the election, which is lots of very polemic political books, which seem to be selling more as badges as campaign buttons than books anyone would actually read. In some cases we actually have receipts to prove this. Donald Trump Jr.'s book, for instance, popped up on the best seller list. But then it turned out that there was enormous bulk buying, which could have influenced that. But that's -- I don't mean to single that out. There's a lot of this going on with political books that people buy to show their allegiance to a particular cause.
NNAMDIAnd listening to the NPR newscast today, these books don't seem to be changing many minds.
CHARLESNo. They're not meant to. They just confirm what you believe.
NNAMDIBooks, of course, make great gifts. What books are you planning to buy this year and what books are you hoping to get as gifts? Ebony Flowers, I'll start this one with you.
FLOWERSSo a book that I would like to get would be -- it's so hard, because I get so many books already through my publisher. But one I haven't received yet is Seth's book "Clyde Fans." So I guess if Drawn & Quarterly is listening I'd like to get that one.
NNAMDIEither that or you're going to be forced to buy it.
FLOWERSYeah. It's a collection of his work of I think over a couple of decades. And so I haven't had a chance to read it. So that's one that I hope to at some point get, and that was published this year. And then books that I -- so I love children's books, because of their illustrations and there's some that are out now that with like really great storytelling.
FLOWERSAnd one book that I just picked up and I'm thinking of giving it to a few of my friends, who have children who are around like six years old is Ivan Brunetti's comics, how-to comics book. It's called "Comics: Easy as ABC." And he made one for adults a few years back that I use all the time called "Cartooning Philosophy and Practice." And so this one I picked up is amazing. And it has -- he walks kids through how to make comics. And he also brings one guest cartoonist and they have like a page or two pages and they explain a specific technique in cartooning. And so that's a book I'm planning to give out this year.
NNAMDIHannah, do you ever get books as gifts since you own a bookstore?
DEPPNo. And it's very upsetting.
DEPPAll I want are books. It's very funny. I do understand the intimidation of buying somebody, who reads and sells books for a living because, yes, I may already have it. It's the Albus Dumbledore. You know, all I want is a thick pair of wool socks. It's true. I do want warm socks and also books. Yeah, sometimes I do share of list of what I do not yet have with family, but it is often just me at the end of the season rewarding myself by purchasing books from my own store.
NNAMDIRion, you also teach creative writing at the University of Maryland. So do you actually buy books?
SCOTTI do. I do. Every year my father and I we go out on Christmas Eve.
NNAMDIThat would be Nigel Scott.
SCOTTIt would be Nigel Scott. We go out and it's been a tradition since I was about 12. So we're going to do it again this year. We're going to hit up Loyalty Books in Silver Spring.
NNAMDIAny book in particular you're interested in?
SCOTTOh, man. What am I looking to get? I don't know. I'm not sure. You know, there is a -- I think there's a poetry collection by Natalie Diaz that I really want to read. And I'm blanking on the title. I believe it's "When My Brother was An Aztec."
SCOTTThat sounds right. Okay, good. And in terms of giving out books I think if there's a kid in your life Jason Reynolds's "Look Both Ways," will have you laughing your head off in just -- and nodding as well.
CHARLESDon't give me books.
NNAMDIAny books you're giving this year?
CHARLESYeah, I'm sending my nephew who is probably in Chicago so probably not listening. He's at work now. "Black Leopard, Red Wolf," because he's a big fantasy fan. He went through the "Game of Thrones," books. And my wife and I are giving several copies away of "Strangers and Cousins," that book by Leah Hager Cohen.
NNAMDIAll right. On to the phones now, here is Dee on the eastern shore in Maryland. Dee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DEEHi, Kojo. I want to recommend to everybody the book "Furious Hours," by Casey Cep, C-E-P. It's about the murder of Reverend Willie Maxwell in the intersection of his life with that of Harper Lee. And Casey happens to be a former high school English student of mine. So that's kind of cool too, but great book.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your recommendation. Katy tweets her favorite is fiction "With the Fire on High" after hearing Elizabeth Acevedo on your show, and non-fiction "Bleeding Out," especially combined with reading Ibram X. Kendi's writing I was moved to be active in gun violence prevention in D.C. Katy, thank you very much for sharing that with us. Rion, I'd like to shift gears a bit and talk about your book "The World Doesn't Require You." What is it that connects these stories? It is Cross River?
SCOTTYeah, the Cross River is my recurring character. I used to think that one of my characters Kin Sampson was going to be this character that kept coming back, but he just never shows up. And when he does he minimizes himself. So I realize that the town that I've created that was founded after a slave revolt is actually the character that's going to be recurring in my work.
NNAMDIThat's the character that connects all of these stories. I'm curious about the title. Why did you call this collection "The World Doesn't Require You?"
SCOTTWell, I think that it's --
NNAMDIIt's quite depressing.
DEPPMaybe it's important for some people to remember actually.
SCOTTIt feels liberating to me to -- that thought, to feel that, you know, when you realize that you're not exactly -- you know, the necessary element in this world. You realize you can't treat anybody anyway that you want. And I think that there are a lot of men that are realizing that now.
NNAMDIAs we mentioned, these stories are set in the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland, a place that you're returning to for the second time. One critic wrote for NPR, it's undeniable that Cross River, Maryland is one of the most fascinating cities in America. Tell us about it and how did you come up with it?
SCOTTWell, Cross River was founded in 1807 after a successful slave revolt. And as we know, there were no successful slave revolts in this country, but I was inspired by the Haitian Revolution. And in real life I was inspired by the Haitian Revolution and within the world of Cross River the enslaved people, who founded their town were inspired by the Haitian Revolution.
NNAMDIIn this collection, there's a kind of afro futuristic story about robots. In an interview with NPR over the summer you told Audie Cornish that quoting here, "robot stories are slave stories." What do you mean by that?
SCOTTYou know, if you watch “Star Wars,” it really angers me how they treat C3PO and R2D2, (laugh) you know. And, in most robot stories, these robots are created to serve. And they often come to the realization that they have souls, too, and that they should be treated with respect. And I think that's the realization that the robot in my story sort of comes to.
NNAMDIWondering if you could read a passage from the first story in the collection, called “David Sherman: The Last Son of God.”
SCOTTGod is from Cross River. Everyone knows that. He was tall, lanky, wore dirty brown clothes and walked with a limp he tried to disguise as a bop. His chin held a messy salt and pepper beard that extended to his Adam's apple, always clutching a mango in his hand. He used to live on the south side, down under the bridge, near the water. Now, there's a nice, little sidewalk and flowers and a bike trail that leads into Port Yuga.
SCOTTBack then, there was just mud and weeds, and he'd sit there barefooted, softly preaching his word. At one time, he had 100, maybe 200, some say up to 500 or even a 1,000 people listening. But the time I'm talking about, he'd sit with only one or two folks, always with a mango, except during Easter time, when he'd pass out jellybeans to get people to stop and listen.
NNAMDIThat was Rion Amilcar Scott, reading from “David Sherman: The Last Son of God,” one of the short stories that makes up this collection, “The World Doesn't Require You.” Why is God from Cross River?
SCOTTEverything happens in Cross River. (laugh)
NNAMDII thought you would say, why not? (laugh)
SCOTTYeah, Santa's from Cross River. Everything happens in Cross River. It's a place where I can sort of examine everything through the lens of these people who are the children of this insurrection.
NNAMDIWe got a Tweet from Brett, who said: FYI for the caller who got inspired to read as a teenager with “The Outsiders,” the author was a woman, S.E. Hinton. Thank you for that, Brett. Here now is Judy in Silver Spring, Maryland. Judy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUDYHi, Kojo. I'm actually on my way to a bookstore to buy two books as gifts.
NNAMDIYou go, girl. (laugh)
JUDY(laugh) And they are Michael Klare's "All Hell Breaking Loose," which is a nonfiction book that I recommend to anybody who's interested in climate change, because he takes it from an interesting point of view. He's done a lot of research, and the Department of Defense turns out to be the department in our federal government that has paid the most attention to this issue as a national security issue, and is also working to green its bases. So, it's got a lot more into it than that, but I'm getting it for a friend.
JUDYAnd I'm also buying Martha Collin's most recent collection of poetry, which is a beautiful collection about the death of her husband. But, thanks. Always good to talk about books.
NNAMDIThank you. Thank you for sharing that with us. Here is Kay in University Park, Maryland. Kay, your turn.
KAYOh, hi, Kojo. I'm calling about a children's book that's called, I think it's "Serena: The Littlest Sister." And it's got beautiful illustrations, and it's about Serena Williams and her four sisters, you know, how they grew up, learned to play tennis. I mean, it's like a real autobiography, but it's, you know, a children's book.
NNAMDIWhat is it called?
KAY"Serena: The Littlest Sister."
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much -- go ahead.
KAYOh, I was going to say, so I bought it, when I saw it in a bookstore, for my granddaughter. Bought it for Christmas. I'm buying it for all the women in my family, too. (laugh)
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that. Are you keeping a copy for yourself, too?
NNAMDIThank you. Here's Erin, in Anacostia. Erin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERINHi. I just want to say, as a huge fantasy fan, one of my favorite books of the year was "The Priory of the Orange Trees." It's like five books in one, and some of the verses just sucked me right in. And then a book that I'm really excited about getting for Christmas is "The Starless Sea" by Erin Morgenstern, because I've always been a fan of hers since "The Night Circus.” So, thanks for the show.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for sharing that with us. Here's Quacoo (sounds like) in Manassas, Virginia. Quacoo, your turn. Quacoo seems to have...
QUACOO...for my five-year-old who is writing on everything. including my walls, so some kind of book that is interactive that he can play on or maybe get him to write on the books.
NNAMDI(overlapping) So, he just likes writing?
QUACOOYes, on everything he gets a hold of. In the car, on the walls.
NNAMDIRion, how old were you when you started just writing?
SCOTTI was about 12, yeah, 12 or 13.
NNAMDIAnd your son is five years old, Quacoo?
NNAMDIAny recommendations for Quacoo, Hannah?
DEPPAbsolutely. I mean, there's quite a few guided kids books. One that just recently comes to mind is a little bit older than five, but it's very picture-focused and interactive by Raina Telgemeier, that goes along with her various graphic novel series. And it does get kids writing in there. But, you know, I got presented piles and piles of empty notebooks as a child, and lots of crayons. And that was the thing, because I was the same way. If there was a surface that was blank, I was going to write on it. So, Godspeed, and give big piles of empty notebooks. He'll feel so very grownup with those.
NNAMDIWell, for me, it was comic books. Ebony Flowers, any recommendations for Quacoo for his five-year-old graphic novelist?
FLOWERSSure. I would say go to a local arts or a crafts store and get butcher paper, a ream of butcher paper, and just roll it out. And you can tape it to the wall or have it on the ground and have your child just kind of go at it. And then also invest in some washable crayons and markers. (laugh) That'd be the number one thing.
DEPPIt happens, yeah.
SCOTTYeah, it's bad training.
FLOWERSYeah, it sounds like your child has a big imagination and wants to just tell stories and draw pictures. So, I don't know if a book would be helpful. I would just say just paper and writing instruments.
NNAMDIQuacoo, thank you for your call, and good luck. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk with Ebony Flowers some more about her book, "Hot Comb," and continue our conversation on winter reading. You can still give us a call with your suggestions or recommendations at 800-433-8850. Do you prefer reading paper books or tablets? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about winter reading with Ebony Flowers, author and illustrator of 'Hot Comb." Rion Amilcar Scott, author of the story collection "The World Doesn't Require You." Hannah Oliver Depp is the owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth and Silver Spring. Ron Charles is a critic for the Washington Post Book World and host of The Totally Hip Book Review. Before I forget, when we were off the air, you and Ron were talking about somebody who's name needs to get on the air?
FLOWERSYes. Someone was mentioning "Circe," which was a novel from last year by Madeline Miller, which is still moving like hotcakes, because it's utterly beautiful. We wanted to get the author's name out there, Madeline Miller.
NNAMDISusan emails: I love "Disappearing Earth" for its construction and depiction of women's lives in the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia. Talk about an area most of us know nothing about, each woman is dealing with arbitrary happenings, making questionable choices and coming to decisions. The initial short story-like chapter depicts two young girls who are creepily abducted. The first two chapters made me wonder how the short stories were going to come together. But when they did, the satisfactions for the reader were many. Susan, thank you for that email. Ebony, I'd like to turn to you now. Tell us about "Hot Comb."
FLOWERSSo, "Hot Comb" is a series of short stories, so it's a mix of fiction and creative nonfiction stories that loosely revolve around black women's hair and deal with broader themes of family place and belonging wrapped around the messages of racism, misogyny and classism.
NNAMDII know you're from the Washington region. How much of this story is autobiographical?
FLOWERSYeah. So, I am born and raised in Maryland, so specifically, I lived in Severn for a while, and then in Brooklyn Park and then in and around Baltimore. And I just most recently moved out west for school, and have kind of settled more than I thought I would (laugh) over here. And so, almost all of the stories in "Hot Comb" take place in and around Baltimore and in Severn. And so roughly half are true, and then the other half are fiction.
FLOWERSAnd I would say even the fiction ones, there's an emotional truth to the stories. So, the longest one, that's also called "Hot Comb," is about my experience with my first perm. So, that one's definitely true. And then I also have stories like "Last Angolan Saturday," which actually takes place in Angola, that is fiction and was inspired by, like, Janelle Monae's "Dirty Computer." The video where she is going on the road trip..
NNAMDIHow about the one with the African American girl who was the only black person on her softball team, and all of her white teammates seem to be constantly obsessed with her hair? Was any of that autobiographical?
FLOWERSSo, that story's called "My Little Sister Lena.” And I did play softball when I was younger. And so I draw upon my experience of my love for softball and some of the nostalgia I have around the cheerleading and being on the team to create that story.
FLOWERSAnd then I also was inspired by and also troubled by some of the news that came out around the time that I was making that story. So, one about an Olympian gymnast who's black, and she was doing really well on the team in competition. But people, especially on Twitter, were obsessed with how she had her hair. And that became a thing. And then, also, with the high school wrestler who was forced to cut off his dreads in the middle of competition because they were apparently against regulation.
FLOWERSAnd then that story was also inspired by a friend of mine, who is a title nine lawyer and also played collegiate softball. And she did her PhD around black women and collegiate sports that, were where most of the players are white -- so, for example, swimming, gymnastics and softball. And she studied their experiences on a team.
FLOWERSAnd one of the things that came up was this anxiety around what to do with your hair, especially around or during competition. And some of that anxiety spilled over on how they performed on the field, and then also how they performed academically.
NNAMDIYou are tackling some hard conversations about race and class through illustration. How difficult was that to accomplish?
FLOWERSIt actually was easier for me to do it that way than I think it would've been through prose. I haven't tried it through prose. But I started making comics late, so I'm 38 now, and I started when I was 30. I studied with cartoonist Linda Barry, and worked closely with her while I was getting my PhD. And so, that's when I really started doing storytelling, like, through fiction and nonfiction and not just, like, doing research with my PhD.
FLOWERSSo, it came easier to me than, I think, a lot of people would imagine, because that's how I pretty much learned to tell stories.
NNAMDIHere now is Soren in Falls Church, Virginia, speaking of graphic novels. Soren, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SORENYes. I would like to mention "Real Friends," by Shannon Hale, and it's illustrated. It's a graphic novel illustrated by, I think, this is a Vietnamese name, LeUyen Pham.
SORENBut it's an autobiographical -- I think there's two books. There's "Real Friends" and there's a second book she wrote that's more about her time in middle school. But it's an autobiographical, and I think the illustrations -- there's something about -- maybe your guests could put their finger on it. I can't, but something about this being a graphic novel form, as opposed to prose that really connected with my girls and with myself.
NNAMDICare to comment, Hannah?
DEPPDefinitely. I was actually thinking about a lot of the gifts I'm giving this year, in addition to being short story collections, are graphic novels. And they're reaching across ages. "Good Talk" by Mira Jacob, "Best Friends" and "Real Friends" by Shannon Hale. Ebony, I'm giving your book to several people, and I was that girl on that softball team.
DEPPThere's a lot (all talking at once) -- yeah, you know, but it's therapy on the page. It's laughter on the page. It is empathy, you know, personified. And I think especially it's graphic novels have blown up for middle school readers a lot. And I spend a long time explaining to parents that those are books, and they're great, and they should encourage their kids to read them, especially if they've been adverse to reading otherwise. We all need empathy in our books, and it's a great way of expressing it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Soren. By the way, do you recommend paper books over tablets? This is a question for all of you. Does it matter where someone is reading, or just that they are reading? Ron?
CHARLESThe evidence I've seen is that you remember more if you have a physical book in your hand. I also read books, because I have to take notes all the time in the margins, (laugh) and I haven't been able to do that well with an e-book.
NNAMDIHow about you, Rion?
SCOTTI'm old school. I have to have the book in my hand. Looking at the screen, it just makes my eyes glass over.
NNAMDIHow about you, Hannah?
DEPPI just want everyone to read, (laugh) so I'm more of an audio book and paper book reader, but I do encourage people to get e-books, which you can do in your local indie, as well. But I just want everyone to read, however it works. But I think the evidence is pretty clear that most people are dual readers. They don't really read...
NNAMDII was about to say, I read both.
DEPPYes, exactly. And so I tend to pack my phone and my tablet full of books, so that I'm never caught without one. But I prefer, personally, a big stack of books.
NNAMDIFor me, it depends on how I found out about the book. If I happen to, of course, be in a bookstore, then I'll buy the book. If I happen to find out about it from some other source, and I'm in a real hurry to read it, I'll get it online.
DEPPYeah, I also borrow a lot from my library online.
NNAMDIMaria emails us...go ahead, please, Ebony.
FLOWERSOh, I was going to say, I used to be all about a hard copy, like, an actual book. But now that I'm breastfeeding, I don't really have two hands, so (laugh) I've definitely switched over to e-reading. And then there's a cartoonist named Ezra Claytan Daniels, and he made "Upgrade Soul." And that originally came out as an actual book, but he intended it for reading on an app. And he has that out now, and there's music that goes along with it and some animation, too. So, I would recommend that for people who are interested.
NNAMDIYou'll like this, Ron. Maria emails us: one of my favorite books this year was "There There" by Tommy Orange. Beautifully crafted, characters drawn from observation of a community we don't know and an inevitable, devastating conclusion.
CHARLESYeah, that was one of our best books from last year. That is a great collection of books, and part of this enormous and important movement of Native American books that have been coming out the last 10 years.
SCOTTYeah, I'm reading it right now.
NNAMDIHere is Shama in Rockville, Maryland. Shama, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAMAThank you, Kojo. I really love your show, and I would like to talk about two nonfiction books that I'm reading, currently. One of them is called "Women in Tech" by Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, I think the last name. And the other one is about aging, by David Sinclair, who is one of the well-known scientists. He talks about how people age, and why we don't have to. In fact, he talks about how it is treated as a disease. And I thought it was pretty cool.
SHAMASo, these are the two nonfiction books I'm reading. And this is great. I mean, the "Women in Tech" is not -- you know, it's different. It's almost like a hand guide for people who are transitioning into tech, and also especially for women transitioning into tech. It's really great.
SHAMAThe other book is one of these that I read a long time ago, and that is, "Things Fall Apart." I can't remember the author...
SHAMAYeah, thank you. That is one of the topics that I just -- I read it during college a long time ago, and I still recommend that for my kids to read. And I'm...
NNAMDIA main character named Okonkwo.
SHAMAOkonkow, oh, my gosh, yeah. It's just amazing. So, these three books I thought I wanted to share with you guys.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Here's Laura in Ellicott City, Maryland. Laura, your turn.
LAURAHi, Kojo and everybody. I wanted to know if anybody has mentioned Ta-Nahisi's novel.
NNAMDINot as if. You're the first. It's called "The Water Dancer," yes.
LAURA"The Water Dancer." I've read and/or listened to all of his books. And this was the most amazing, extraordinary writing I have seen in such a long time. The beginning of it is like reading a lyrical poem. I think there's a rhythm to his writing that makes it feel like a poem. And I was just extraordinarily amazed at a guy who comes from writing nonfiction to writing this. There was so much heart in it, and there was so much extraordinary information in it. And it's just his voice came through loud and clear. It's the most extraordinary book I've read since "The Nightingale."
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Well, of course, you know Ta-Nahisi is a great admirer of James Baldwin, who also wrote both fiction and nonfiction. Hannah, you reopened Upshur Books as Loyalty Bookstore in 2018. There's currently a pop-up location in Silver Spring. What's next for that bookstore?
DEPPWell, we're very, very happy. We just got to sign a long-term lease for the Silver Spring location, so we're going to be there for some time now. I'm very, very excited. So, we will be in downtown Silver Spring. We're on Ellsworth Drive for the future.
NNAMDII hear from a lot of adults, Ebony, that they don't have the time they'd like to read, especially when it comes to more ambitious fare. What do you recommend for those folks, having had just had that experience yourself?
FLOWERSWell, first, it's okay. Don't beat yourself up about it, if you're too busy. (laugh) And I would say short stories or comics are a really great way to feel like you're still reading and, you know, still read, even if you don't have enough time. So, let's see. So, one book I recommend, and it wasn't within the last year, but it's within the last decade, is the “Sunny” series by Matsumoto. I just absolutely love it. It's loosely based around his childhood and growing up in kind of like, I guess, an orphanage back in the '60s.
FLOWERSAnd it's a beautiful book, and you can read it casually. So, you don't have to have -- you can have 20 minutes or 10 minutes and really make a dent in the book.
NNAMDIHannah, apart from Ebony Flowers and Rion Amilcar Scott, are there any other local authors or stories you're especially excited about?
DEPPI mean, we've already mentioned Jason Reynolds, but he's -- my favorite book for adults and kids. I love, love, love all of his chapter books, especially. And then a book that I'm still really raving about is "The Training School for Negro Girls," which takes place all around the DMV area. It tackles gentrification, low-wage jobs. It's got real great humor to it, really wonderful writing. And each story is a punch.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Hannah Oliver Depp, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIRon Charles, always a pleasure.
CHARLESWonderful to see you.
NNAMDIRion Amilcar Scott, the same, thank you.
NNAMDIAnd Ebony Flowers, thank you for joining us.
FLOWERSThanks for having me.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Julie Depenbrock, with assistance from Laura Spitalniak. Coming up tomorrow, roadside zoos may seem like a fun stop on a long drive, but how do you know how they're treating their animals? Plus, what's behind the shortage of school nurses in the Washington region? That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.