Janine Rubenstein, PEOPLE Every Day

Janine Rubenstein, PEOPLE Every Day

Editor-at-Large at People Magazine and host of the PEOPLE Every Day podcast Janine Rubenstein joins Zibby to talk about her career and her current book recommendations. Janine shares how she started her career as an editorial assistant helping to select People’s book picks and has since made her way around the entire People ecosystem. She also tells Zibby what it’s like interviewing celebrities on red carpets and for the podcast, as well as how celebrity culture has shifted in some ways since the pandemic. Make sure to listen for Janine’s top three recommendations at the moment!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Janine. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” This is so much fun.

Janine Rubenstein: Thank you for having me. I’m excited.

Zibby: As I was just chatting with you about, usually, I have authors, but I’m so excited to have you on, A, to talk about your book picks, but B, as a fellow podcaster of “People Every Day,” and C, as somebody who started out picking the books, essentially, for People magazine in the mailroom or whatever. I want to hear that whole thing about how People picks books. I want to hear about your whole journey to here and everything. There’s so much to talk about.

Janine: I’m a talker, so that’s great. I have been at People for a little over ten years. I started off as an editorial assistant under the fabulous Kim Hubbard, who is all things books at People magazine. A lot of people don’t think People has a books section. Yes, we do. It’s fabulously curated by Kim Hubbard and has been for years. I was the one who was opening up all those packages from Random House and Penguin and you name it and just going through, sorting. We had a massive book room. I would drown it in it every single day but kind of loved it at the same time. I was able to flag some things for her and say, this is really interesting. It’s where I found my first love of Game of Thrones. This is long before anyone cared about the show. It was season one or two. We had all of the DVDs on the table, scattered. No one wanted them. I read the graphic novel. Then I started reading some of the other books in the book room. Don’t tell her I was doing that.

Zibby: I won’t tell her.

Janine: I became obsessed and went and grabbed the freebies off of the table and then made my entire family obsessed before the world was obsessed with Game of Thrones. That’s my claim to fame. It was just a fabulous —

Zibby: — Wait, go back for one second. In the room where you sorted all the books, because I try to sort books all the time too, how did you sort it? Was it by pub date? Was it alphabetical? How did you keep track?

Janine: It was by genre. It was also by pub date. We’re a weekly, so whatever was coming up that we could time to that issue had to be front of the room. She had to be able to see it. There were post-its everywhere. If there was a lot of buzz, I put it even more towards the front. If it was something I just thought was super interesting, I would flag it with a different kind of note and be like, “Kim, just take a look. Humor me.” It was a whole shebang. I wasn’t the only one in there, but that was my main job for my first few months. I was also working on the crime team and the human-interest team doing a lot of the hard news. It was just such a good introduction into — it almost felt like a newspaper even though we’re a magazine because we did everything. We still had a pretty quick turnaround, not a newspaper turnaround. I didn’t have to have everything in by three PM or you’re fired. It was fast-paced. I got to touch on everything. I really feel like Kim was such a great editor to come up under. From there, I went on to report crime and then moved over to the entertainment team after the world went even more to crap and I couldn’t deal with talking to people on the worst days of their lives anymore. I was a TV writer for years. Then I became the music editor for years. Now I am editor-at-large, meaning, I do more of what I want, but also host of our podcast, “People Every Day,” as you mentioned. I’ve had a run through the People ecosystem.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. I love that. “People Every Day,” I was listening to a few recent ones about Linda Evangelista and the SAG Awards and everything. Sometimes, even though you start it, you don’t do every interview on the show. It’s like you’re the anchor and then you send it out to the reporters type of thing

Janine: Yeah. Think of me as the Barbaro of — no, I’m kidding. We really try to tap into our on-the-ground, great knowledge of the entertainment space, mostly. We are a trusted source in that wild, wild zoo that is entertainment. We’re able to just pull on all of that expertise from so many different angles. We also do, like I said, the crime and those human-interest stories that really pull at your heartstrings. I think that’s why I’ve actually been here as long as I have. You can’t really get bored. You’re able to be flexible and have a hand in all the different types of stories that you want to tell.

Zibby: With all of these physical magazines shutting in the last couple weeks, which I cannot believe, I’m so sad about it. I like to hold things. I like to read things. I couldn’t believe it.

Janine: Thank you. Tell your younger friends. I’m kidding.

Zibby: I know, I know, I know. It’s true. I don’t really have any young friends, but I’ll tell younger listeners who are listening. I’ll tell my kids. Actually, my kids love magazines, though. That’s the big treat. Sometimes we wrap them up as gifts. Here, have a magazine.

Janine: Look, I have so many friends, and they’re like, what? What’s going on? My son, like you said, he still loves Highlights. He gets it in the mail. He just gets so excited. He goes to the couch. Then you don’t hear from him for an hour.

Zibby: It’s the best.

Janine: You’re not alone. They are still out there, especially, thankfully, for People because people are definitely still reading the actual print pages of our magazine. Time’s a-changin’, man. People want to listen to their news and click on their news and do all of these other things. We’ve been able to say, okay, let’s do that; people.com, “People Every Day” podcast. What do you need? We’re out here giving it to you. I don’t think People, the magazine, is going anywhere, in print, anytime soon.

Zibby: It better not.

Janine: I mean, come on. What are you going to do at the airport? What are you going to do at the nail shop? What if you have to go to the doctor? What are you going to do?

Zibby: When I was little, I used to cut out the little squares in the upper-righthand corner. Do you remember how there always used to be a square in the upper-righthand corner of People? That was my collection. People were coming into school on “What Do You Collect?” Day with minerals or something. I was like, I have the upper-righthand corner of People magazine. I was pretty intellectual.

Janine: Oh, my god. I had black Barbies. Those were my things. That was my collecting thing. I’ll tell you right now, People, Essence magazine, all of the things that were in that little magazine roll in my grandmother’s bathroom — you remember those?

Zibby: Yes. Yep, I totally do. I totally do, oh, my gosh. You said a few minutes ago when we were chatting that the last book you read was Will, about Will Smith, which actually, I have not read. I’ve heard amazing things about that book. Tell me about that book and what else is on your nightstand or what you’re reading these days.

Janine: Will Smith’s memoir, oh, my gosh. I read it because I had to. To the point of the title of this podcast, it’s very hard for me to find time to actually read these days. I was doing a story on the memoir. It just took me by surprise. I thought it was going to be one of those celebrity memoirs that says what they want to say and doesn’t really go there. It went there in so many ways. Almost, at times, I was like, don’t go there. Don’t go there, about his relationship with Jada and just the ups and downs and all of that and then his relationship with his kids and talking about Willow pushing back against him and how he had to see himself as this overbearing father that wanted his kids to be as dogged and successful in entertainment as he was. They were like, look, dude, chill. Same with Jaden and his acting career, having to deal with that. It pulled back the veil on the Smiths in a way that we just never have had, and specifically with him as well, the trauma that he had as a kid growing up and what he saw. He witnessed his father brutally abuse his mother. That just stuck with him for so long. He always felt like a coward because he didn’t defend her. He said he built up his entire persona and all the action heroes and everything that he’s done, his jokes, was all to kind of hide this scared little boy that was in the bathroom. It was so much more than I thought it was going to be. I was very happy that work made me read that time.

Zibby: Wow. Okay, you just sold me on that book. Thank you.

Janine: You’re welcome. There’s more than that.

Zibby: I’m sure.

Janine: Other relationships. I hope it wasn’t too many spoilies, but yeah, it’s good.

Zibby: No, that was perfect. Thank you. What else are you looking forward to reading?

Janine: What I’m looking forward to reading — a lot of things because, as I said — look, the SAG Awards were just the other day. They can’t see this, of course, because this is audio, but I still have old eyeliner from the awards that I haven’t been able to get — it’s basically the basecoat on my face. That’ll tell you how much time I have in my day. There’s so much on my list.

Zibby: By the way, the SAG Awards were so glamorous and awesome and so short. Two hours, in and out. Every star was there. I loved it. It was my favorite awards show of all time.

Janine: It was amazing. I was so happy to see everyone and be around everyone. There were a lot of COVID protocols and all of that. I was happy to see how happy the stars actually were and willing they actually were. Zero egos. I feel like the pandemic, of course, has been the great equalizer for everything. It was a very different vibe. It was like, yes, I’ll stop and talk to you guys. I love people. How are you doing? Everyone was just happy to be there, happy to be outside. I have nothing but great things to say about this show. That is usually not the case when it comes to award shows.

Zibby: Do you get nervous at all talking to celebrities, or not at all?

Janine: Yeah. Oh, yeah, definitely, especially at shows like this because there’s just so many different films. We try to watch everything. We do not. We cannot. It’s not humanely possible. For some people, it is. Again, I don’t have time to read books. You just try to prep as much as possible. There’s a lot happening. You’ll be standing there talking to Jessica Chastain. Then Kirsten Dunst pops up. You don’t think she’s going to, but she wants to say hi to Jessica. Then it’s like, well, Kirsten, come on, join in. Let’s talk. It’s a lot. You just have to stay fluid and excited. I’m a fangirl, so that always works for me.

Zibby: That’s so cool. I do feel like, you’re right, with the pandemic, maybe — I don’t know. I’ve started interviewing celebrities on the podcast and stuff. At first, I was ridiculously nervous. Then it’s like, they’re all just sitting in their living rooms. We’re all just people. I know that’s obvious, but I feel like I didn’t used to think celebrities were just regular people. I really didn’t believe it.

Janine: Well, some of them aren’t.

Zibby: Some of them aren’t, okay.

Janine: Some of them aren’t. I will just be honest.

Zibby: Those are not the ones coming on my podcast.

Janine: Some of them are very aware that they are not just regular people, and they’ll make you very aware of that as well. For the most part, yes, and especially now. I had a mess-up or two on the carpet. They’re just like, oh, girl, stop. Fine. It’s fine. We’re human. We’re living. We’re here.

Zibby: I love that. Okay, books.

Janine: Yes, books. There’s one that, again, the amazing Kim Hubbard put me onto that I am looking to add to the list, The Love of My Life: A Novel by author Rosie Walsh. I’m sure you’ve heard of this because there’s so much —

Zibby: — I have heard of it. I interviewed Rosie for Ghosted, which was her first book which came out a couple years ago. It was so good. Did you read that?

Janine: I did not, but Kim told me to.

Zibby: It was really good. It’s worth reading. I got to get Kim. Where is she? Is she hiding behind you? Is this like in Cyrano de Bergerac where she’s telling you what to say about books?

Janine: She was like, “You have to read Ghosted, but she has this new one coming out.” She put me onto another book that I did read years ago, Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Just reading the synopsis, it reminds me of it. Emma is a marine biologist. Her husband Leo is an obituary writer. He finds out once she gets sick — he starts to dig into her past and finds out that she is not at all who he thought she was. She still very much loves him. It’s just this whole mystery that’s tied up. It gives me that Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, but not as silly, a little more earnest than that. I’m looking forward to getting that one. Then also, one that is probably going to be right at the top of my list is Always with You, Always with Me. This is a children’s book by Kelly Rowland and educator Jessica McKay.

Zibby: Oh, I heard about this yesterday. I just got pitched this yesterday.

Janine: Of course, singer Kelly Rowland, diva Kelly Rowland, and Jessica McKay. It’s a beautiful children’s book that’s coming out in April that follows a working mom and her kid and how she provides comfort and soothes that separation anxiety, honestly, that they both feel, as we know as working moms, to be apart because Mama’s got to work. I cannot wait for it. I want it for — I have two little ones. I have a six-year-old and an eighteen-month-old.

Zibby: Aw, eighteen-month-old.

Janine: I totally had that with Reece when he was going off to school and I had to go back to work. I honestly just stopped breastfeeding my youngest. That was its own separation anxiety that I got over. I can’t wait. It’s just an ode to working moms, man. We need it.

Zibby: I wrote this essay when I stopped nursing my third child. I was sitting in Pain Quotidien with ice packs in my sports bra. I remember sitting there. My big kids were at school. I was like, this is one of these moments. It’s the last time I’ll ever do this. I won’t have kids anymore. Two months later, I was pregnant. I had my son. Ridiculous that I even wrote the thing. Yes, I know those feelings.

Janine: I felt that. I literally had her in my arms the last morning. I was like, this is it. She was like, “Mm-mm, mm-mm,” with my nipple in her mouth, like, no. I’m looking forward to that one.

Zibby: That’s why you don’t have time to read. Oh, my gosh, you have such a little one.

Janine: She definitely keeps me busy, but I love her. That’s Ramey, my little baby. One more that I wanted to get to, because I think I need it and I think we all need it, is Read This to Get Smarter by Blair Imani. I should’ve been and read this. This is a woman who I watch on Instagram all the time, this Smarter in Seconds series that she has. She is so dope. She breaks down just the clear, simple form of the basics around issues of race, class, gender, disability, and more. It came out last year, I think in October. I love it because she does away with that whole thing that we’re in right now where it’s just like, oh, you should know this. Duh. Why don’t you know blah, blah, blah? She’s like, no, there’s a whole huge swath of our population that, for whatever reason, doesn’t know about racial inequality, doesn’t know about classism, doesn’t know about colorism or gender or LGBTQI+ issues. I am going to break it down in simple terms but be very accurate and clear about why this is a thing and why you should learn about it and be informed in your daily life. Think — what were those books that used to — like For Dummies but better, better written, not as — .

Zibby: Love it. Excellent. Great. I’m glad you told me again about the Kelly Rowland book. This might air after my Live, but I’m doing one — it’s the GMA Book Club of Pick of the Month this month. I’m going to do an Instagram Live with Rosie on Monday next week.

Janine: Wonderful. I am on brand. I’m on trend.

Zibby: You are on brand, yes. You’re doing it.

Janine: I love it.

Zibby: If listeners have not listened to “People Every Day” before, are there a couple episodes that you’re like, start with this? Should they just jump into the “Every Day” and do it once a day?

Janine: Jump into “Every Day,” and do it every single day. We’re pretty succinct. It’s fun. You get those headlines. You get the breakdown. I was talking about Smarter in Seconds. It’s smarter in about twenty minutes in terms of entertainment. You get everything you need to know from that day. Say you’re going to a happy hour or you need something to just talk to your husband about that has nothing to do with the kids after eight PM. That is what we provide. I would say, top of mind, SAG Awards, that was a fun one, if you want to go behind the scenes and be a fly on the wall inside the room at the SAG Awards, so fun, and figure out everything that was going on on the carpet. All of the stars that were just standing in line happily behind the step and repeat huddled up together, you wouldn’t believe, A-listers just like, okay, your turn. Next up. It’s crazy. I would say, do that one. You mentioned a really good one about — oh, god, I’m blanking.

Zibby: Linda Evangelista.

Janine: Linda Evangelista, yes. That was a longer form. That was a longer show. Oh, my god, this is what we do. This is our bread and butter, getting celebrities to really trust us enough to open up about some of the biggest hurdles that they’re going through. To hear her roller-coaster journey through fame and health is amazing. I highly recommend that one. There really is something for everyone. We had a wonderful episode recently about ten years after Trayvon Martin and the Black Lives Matter movement and what has been happening with a lot of the cases and why people are encouraged but also not encouraged in a lot of ways. We run the gamut. Then you get Real Housewives. You get Bachelor updates. You get all of it in time for your pick-up. By the time you pull up at the school, you have all the information you need.

Zibby: It takes me about twenty minutes to go pick up my kids, so maybe I’ll just start putting it on when I’m frantically doing emails before I pick them up.

Janine: Yes. Thank you. Thank you.

Zibby: Love that. Amazing. Thank you so much. This is so fun. I love hearing about all of your picks and your journey through People magazine, which I’ve always had this fascination with forever. Thanks for pulling back the curtain a little to let me in today. I really appreciate it. Are you guys in the office, by the way, or are you not?

Janine: I am not. I’m in the metaverse, as you can see.

Zibby: Yeah. I’m like, I don’t know where you are.

Janine: I record from home.

Zibby: That’s your home? It looks like a full-on studio.

Janine: Right? It’s a mini studio inside my home. Don’t tell anybody. I moved, gosh, in August of last year from the East Coast to the West Coast because I couldn’t do it anymore and set up here. I am one of those work from homers from now on-ers.

Zibby: Amazing. With a set-up like that..

Janine: Is that your home?

Zibby: Yeah, it’s my home and my office.

Janine: Oh, my god, that color-coded book collection is everything. Absolutely beautiful.

Zibby: Thank you. I see it all day through Zoom. I don’t even turn around. This is my view. Ridiculous.

Janine: Zibby, I love your name too.

Zibby: Thank you. It’s short for Elizabeth.

Janine: Okay. I still love it. I need Zs in my life. I need more Zs. As soon as I saw your name, I was like, yes, I’m going to do Zibby’s show.

Zibby: Thank you. I was delighted you’re doing my show. Thanks so much. Let’s stay in touch.

Janine: Absolutely. Thank you so much. I’m going to put you in touch with Kim because I mean…

Zibby: Okay, great. I would love it.

Janine: Have a good one.

Zibby: Thank you. Buh-bye.

Janine: Bye.

PEOPLE Every Day with Janine Rubenstein

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