Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sarah. Thanks so much for doing this special webinar, Facebook, podcast, triple threat.

Sarah Gelman: I’m so excited. I personally can talk about books for forever. I feel like you can too. The fact we only have thirty minutes is very dangerous.

Zibby: I know. There’s so much I could talk to you about. It’s ridiculous, your whole background, everything. Today is such an exciting day for Amazon to have come out with their Best Books of 2020. I’ve gone through every category. It’s so exciting. There were so many books that I had on my podcast, so I’m feeling really excited about that. Wait, tell me a little bit about your role in Amazon and also how this whole Best Books came to be and how you decide on these best books.

Sarah: So many things to unpack. To take a step back, I’ve been at Amazon for eleven years. I came to Amazon, I moved from New York where I worked at Random House. It was just Random House then, no Penguin. I have just been a passionate reader my whole life. I feel so lucky that this is what I get to do for my job and I’ve always gotten to do it. When my kids are college age, maybe I wouldn’t say, “Be an English major,” but it has worked out for me. That’s been great. At Amazon, I have been on the PR side for a long time, but I’ve always worked with the books org. Even when I was working with different orgs, I was always working with books and with the editorial team there. About a year and a half ago, I came back from my last maternity leave, last in a lot of different ways. I was approached about this job to lead the books editorial team which is a team that I worked with for eleven years and I admire. I always felt like they were my people. It’s really just a dream. We’re a team of passionate readers. There are six editors and myself. We all have different backgrounds in the business. One editor is an author herself. Someone is an editor from Random House. We used to work together way back. There are people that have worked at different booksellers, people on the sale side. We all basically are bringing our own background in books and our own expertise and genre knowledge to this team.

We come up with a list every month called the Best Books of the Month. Right now, we’re reading for February 2021. We read a few months in advance. We’re reading books that publishers and independent authors present to us. We all read in different genres. Then once we find something we love, we have someone else read it. Occasionally, there’s a book we all read because we’re so excited about it. We come up with a list of our top ten books every month. Very rarely, we come up with the top twelve when we can’t decide on just ten. This year, we’ve had five months of top twelve, which is the most top twelves we’ve ever had. It made choosing the best books of the year that much harder because there were more top ten books to look at. We’re doing best books, so top ten or twelve, every month and then top books in every different category, so everything from all the different ages for children, zero to two, three to five, on up to young adult. We also look at cooking, food and wine, literature and fiction, mystery and thriller, nonfiction, memoir. Literally every category, we are reading those books and trying to pick the best books for people so they don’t have to do that themselves.

It’s all based on our taste. It’s not based on sales or co-op dollars from publishers. It is one hundred percent the books that we read and are excited about. We’re reading every single one of them. You have to love reading to do this job because there is a lot of reading. I love it. I would read all day if I could. Then we do Best Books of the Year So Far in June. That’s books from, we start January to June. We look at those six months. What’s the best book so far? The best book of the year so far was The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. She’s amazing. I got to interview her in June. It’s such a great book and really an uplifting book too which I felt like we really needed in June. Then we look at the Best Books of the Year, which we release every year around this time period. We look at all the books from the first six months and then everything else. We also ask ourselves, did we miss a book? We never want to miss anything. Sometimes when a pub date changes, we will miss a book because we’ve already had our top ten list and we can’t put it in. Another case would be like the Obama book, for instance. We weren’t able to read that until it came out on Tuesday, so we couldn’t consider it because we already had our best books of November.

Then we decide on the top twenty the old-fashioned way. We basically sit around. Normally, we sit around a table. This year, we sat around a video call. We argue. We fight about our favorites. This year, we had some very, very passionate discussions that ended with people leaving the call angry, but we all agreed at the end on the top ten list which is, to us, the most important, then the top twenty. Then we work our way up to one hundred. We all come in and we’re sort of fighting for our own favorites. Someone on the team once told me when I just joined the team, “You can’t fight for every book that you love. Really be strategic about it.” You’re basically making your case to the other members of the team. We really aim to have something for everyone too. They’re not all fiction. They’re not all nonfiction. We always have a debut book every month in our top two. We take this curation really seriously because people just don’t have that much time to read. We want to help them discover the very best books.

Zibby: I’m glad that you are reading now for February because my anthology is coming out in February.

Sarah: I actually have it digitally. I think that an advance copy is on its way to me. I’m so excited to read it.

Zibby: Good. Awesome. Let’s talk about the winners if you don’t mind. Can we go through?

Sarah: Yes.

Zibby: You have one overall winner, but then you have the top twenty books in general. Before I go through the whole list, I just wanted to tell you which ones from all the categories I’ve had on my podcast in case people want to go back and listen and maybe so you know which ones I thought were really awesome too. In addition to the twenty you picked per category, Good Morning Monster, The Beauty in Breaking, Wandering in Strange Lands — I should probably say the authors. Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper; Good Morning Monster by Catherine Gildiner; Wandering in Strange Lands by Morgan Jerkins; All Because You Matter, the children’s book by Tami Charles; Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes. I wonder if no one can remember all these while I’m rattling them out. I’m going to publish these somewhere. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, I’m about to interview her; Memorial by Bryan Washington; Writers & Lovers by Lily King; The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner; Luster: A Novel by Raven Leilani; Oona Out of Order, Margarita Montimore; The Last Flight by Julie Clark; Pretty Things, Janelle Brown; Long Bright River, Liz Moore; Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, Emmanuel Acho; Wine Girl; Can’t Even; Beach Read; Party of Two; Dragon Hoops. Those are my category. I just had to get those out there.

Sarah: You were listing those books and they feel like my friends. I wanted to jump in. I love the book Oona Out of Order. It’s one of my favorite books of the year. I love that idea of no matter what you do, you sort of end up in the same place. I feel like we saw a lot of books with that theme this year, whether it was Rebecca Serle, the In Five Years book; also, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, which is another book I love that’s in the top twenty. I love that trend. Sliding Doors is my favorite movie.

Zibby: Me too.

Sarah: No way! Oh, my gosh.

Zibby: Yes. I say that all the time.

Sarah: The best movie.

Zibby: I always think, is this one little, tiny decision I’m making going to affect my entire life? That movie was like, yes, it will.

Sarah: I don’t know if you’ve interviewed Jay Shetty, the author. He wrote this book, Think Like a Monk. He was amazing. That book gives me chills. It literally changed my life. He talks about trying to find the silver lining or the positive in things. Honestly, since I’ve read that book, I am always looking for the reason behind something and trying to put a positive spin on it, whether it’s something really tragic — I know that you have kids that are sick at home right now. What is the good that is coming from this right now? That book has helped me a ton this year.

Zibby: I’m trying to find the meaning behind all of it. I actually said to my husband the other day, I was like, “You know, maybe all this is happening, you losing your mom and your grandma and the kids all getting sick, I feel like I’m meant to be a messenger to let people know.” He was like, “Everyone on the planet knows about this. I hate to break it to you, but anyone in the world already heard about it. That can’t be it.” Who knows? Who knows why things happen? The top twenty that you guys picked including the number one — I should do this backwards. Number twenty, Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer; nineteen, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, you just discussed, V.E. Schwab; Deacon King Kong by James McBride; Pretty Things by Janelle Brown, I already said that; Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran; Oona Out of Order, which we were just talking about; Luster, Raven Leilani; A Burning, Megha Majumdar; Dear Child, Romy Hausmann; Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker; Memorial by Bryan Washington, which I had on; The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré; Caste, Isabel Wilkerson; Fifty Words for Rain, Asha Lemmie; The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennet, I’ve had her on; Group by Christie Tate, her too; Blacktop Wasteland: A Novel, S.A. Cosby; Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, I had her on. I haven’t read this book and I’m now so excited to because it’s your number one, A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany Barnett. Oh, my gosh, tell me about this book. I don’t even know about this book.

Sarah: First, before I tell you about it, I will say that last year’s number one pick was Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. That is an amazing book. It was a moment in publishing, sort of like the Barack Obama book — yes, I just compared Margaret Atwood to Barack Obama. It’s a thing, a moment. The New York Times are writing trend pieces about it. It definitely deserved to be number one, but it was, I don’t want to say an obvious pick. This is a little less obvious. You are a reader that reads a ton, and you haven’t read this book. It makes me really happy that we picked a book that we can help people discover for the first time, I hope. This book is a memoir. Brittany Barnett is an incredible person that I’m talking to later today. I’m absolutely in awe of her. She grew up in Texas. Her mother was a drug addict. Her mother was a nurse, I should say. She was also a drug addict. She was incarcerated when Brittany was young. Brittany then, I think she saw — obviously, she saw people that were incarcerated as people and not just as statistics. When she was a little bit older and was studying to be a lawyer, she came upon the case of a woman named Sharanda Jones. Sharanda reminded her so much of her own mother and her family. She was a young woman who was given a life sentence based on the war on drugs, this harsh life sentence for doing something that was not worthy of a life sentence. It was driving drugs down the highway, essentially. She wasn’t expecting to get this sentence. She even left her purse in the car when she went in for her final sentencing.

Brittany basically, while she’s being a lawyer at a corporate firm and working in tax law, she dedicates the rest of her life to helping these people that were served life sentences because of the war on drugs and the disproportionate amount of black Americans that were given life sentences. She changes the world. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s a heartbreaking story. For me, I grew up in the eighties and when I hear the war on drugs, I thought, yeah, war on drugs. Now I feel ashamed when I think about what that meant for so many families and black families in America. It was really eye-opening for me. Even for people who it’s not eye-opening for, you cannot walk away from this book not being affected by it. It’s also hopeful. Yes, it’s incredibly sad in places, but it’s a really helpful book. It just felt like it came at the right time. There was no other book that we read this year that we felt like really captured what was going on in the country, what we felt like we needed to learn, and what was important to read about.

I don’t want to say it’s a hard book to read. At times, it’s hard to read it because it’s really true. It’s really sad at times. Read it because she’s an amazing person. She writes about this idea of representation for children, black children. When she was growing up, there were no models of black female lawyers. Even though she thought she would become a lawyer, she kind of thought black women don’t become lawyers. Then she met her first black lawyer. Basically, it changed her life. She has changed so many lives. It’s really just an amazing story. Even for people that don’t follow this prison reform or criminal reform — most recently, President Trump pardoned someone through Kim Kardashian. That woman is in this book. You don’t realize it until the very end, but she’s someone that Brittany becomes friends with through her visits to these prisons. For me, that was like, oh, my gosh, I remember watching this on the news. It’s really timely. It’s really important. It’s incredibly inspiring. It made me want to go back to my twenties and say, what else should I be doing with my life? It’s really, really remarkable. I’m so in awe of her.

Zibby: As soon as we finish this, I’m going to email her publicist to try to get her on my podcast. Thank you for that.

Sarah: Beyond doing all of this and being a lawyer, she also started all of these foundations. One of them is called the Buried Alive Project. We’re interviewing her later today. People that watch the interview can actually donate to it. I was looking at the website yesterday. She has these videos of people coming out of prison and seeing their families for the first time. One of them is so recent they’re actually wearing masks. Whoever is filming it is filming it from inside of a car. You know that they can’t get out because they can’t get too close to the people that are coming out of the prison. I told my son, my four-year-old, “Mommy cried happy tears.” I’m sitting in my office, tears streaming down my face. Knowing that I was getting on a conference call in five minutes, I was like, what’s my mascara doing? That idea of taking what you think of as statistics of just nameless people and putting this human face on them, it’s so important.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Speaking of your son, by the way, I love that in your bio you mention jumping on the trampoline with your sons is one of your biggest pastimes. I feel like if there’s any hope for the muscles in my legs, it is because of that.

Sarah: It is hard work.

Zibby: I know.

Sarah: We got the trampoline during quarantine. We were lucky to get one. I remember one of our neighbors stopping by our yard. I was jumping on the trampoline. It was like I had done a HIIT workout. I was pouring sweat. I was so embarrassed. I was like, this is really hard work. Yes, we bounce a lot.

Zibby: Just had to get that out there. In terms of for authors out there who are like, I really want to get on this list, what can they do? What are the exact criteria? I know it has to come out in the calendar year 2020. You all have to like it and respond it to and find it relevant and timely and everything, but what else?

Sarah: That’s really it. That’s it. It sounds sort of unscientific. It’s really books that we love and we want to share with people. We all do have genres that we sort of specialize in or tend to read in. Really, the aim of the list every month, and then I think a little less so at the end of the year because obviously top one hundred is a little different than a top ten, is that if you are someone that says, I only read mysteries and thrillers, that you could pick up this book and still find something in it and still think it’s great. The crossover appeal that people talk about in the industry or genre bending, we look for that too. One of the books that we had talked about that I loved, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, she has a really hardcore fanbase of fantasy fans. This book crossed over to this general reader. I’m actually not a fantasy reader, and I loved this book. It’s also such a physically beautiful book. I read it on Kindle. I was like, I have to buy this book to have on my shelf. It’s a great gift.

That sort of thing, it’s just a book that you could give to anyone, someone that loves fantasy, someone that loves mysteries and thrillers, someone that loves nonfiction. It’s funny. We were talking about A Knock at Midnight on the team. There are times that you forget that it’s actually nonfiction. It reminds me of another one of our number-one picks, Educated by Tara Westover. I recommended that to my stepmother. She came back and she said, “That was an amazing novel.” I said, “That’s not a novel. That’s nonfiction. That is her life.” You forget. I think the best books sometimes make you feel sort of disoriented. You’re not sure, are you reading nonfiction? Are you reading fiction? The number-two pick, Migrations, is a novel that at times reads like it’s nonfiction, and not in an overly cerebral or dry way. It’s so lifelike. She’s a videographer, filmmaker, so she has that visual attention to detail. That’s a whole other incredible book.

Zibby: That was also a great book. I interviewed her as well. That was great.

Sarah: That was one of the hardest books to describe, I find. It is very hard to come up with the succinct — you don’t want to say it’s a novel about climate change. I don’t think that that hooks people. This is a good example. The package of the book, I think, is a little unassuming too. I have it here. I can hold it up. This doesn’t, maybe, scream the next huge book, but it’s so good.

Zibby: I don’t know if I have it here or another shelf. I love the cover, though. That’s my favorite color. I try to get rid of my bias to blue when I look at books. I’m like, stop, you’re only liking this cover because you like the color blue.

Sarah: All of my boys’ clothes are blue. People are like, wow, they love blue a lot. I’m like, yeah, they sure do love blue. I’m the one that buys all their clothes.

Zibby: What is your go-to genre? I love memoir. I love fiction too, but memoir is my go-to. What’s yours?

Sarah: I love fiction. I love, I guess I would say, book club-type fiction. I love a good family saga. I want to get in with these characters. I want to live with them for like two hundred years. I want to meet everyone in their family. I want to know about every issue they’ve had. Who’s an alcoholic? Who had an affair? Who said what to whom? That, to me, is why I love reading so much. I just want to get out of my life and go into this other place and just be absorbed by these characters. I love stories. I love good TV too, a good TV story. I just watched The Queen’s Gambit. I know that’s a novel too. That sort of character development and surprises, stories are so amazing. One of my friends just had a baby. I gave him three books for his baby. I gave him The Going to Bed Book. I gave him Giraffes Can’t Dance. I love that book so much. I gave him Little Blue Truck. I wrote the note from my children to this baby. I said, “These are books. When you learn to read, you’ll never be lonely.” That’s how I feel. You can never be bored and lonely when you’re surrounded by all of these people and all these stories.

Zibby: I feel like we are sharing a brain or personality or something. Some of the things you’re saying, I’m like, I say that all the time. That’s my favorite movie. I feel the same way. I even had a therapist say to me at one point, you will never be lonely if you have a good book. I’m like, I know, I’ve been reading my — I’m sure, like me, you were a bookworm as a kid, right? Reading is something that you just always go to.

Sarah: The idea of being bored is not — I mean, I wish I were bored right now, frankly, but that’s not something that I’ve ever — I don’t think I’ve ever felt. I obsessively plan books for — I was even going through my journal. It’s like, books to read on the long weekend. I read workbooks. They’re for pleasure too. Conversation with Friends by Sally Rooney, I have never read that book. I love Normal People. I love that book. The show was incredible.

Zibby: The show was incredible.

Sarah: It’s not something I want to watch with my mom or anything, but it’s an incredible show. I’ve never read her second book. It’s a ten-dollar book. I should just buy it. I keep saving it for, I’m not sure, vacation that I’m not going on. There’s just always something to read. It’s amazing.

Zibby: Are you a Kindle person, or are you more a hardcopy person?

Sarah: I’m both. I really like the convenience on reading on Kindle. When I used to on vacation back in the — I was going to say back in the nineties. Not in the nineties. In the early otts when I was in my twenties, I would go on vacation and I would literally take one bag that was all books, all hardcovers too because I worked in publishing. We would trade hardcovers with each other. I love the convenience of going on vacation and just bringing my Kindle. Like a lot of parents, I wake up frequently in the middle of the night. Being able to read my Kindle and having the light built into it that’s not the bad light is amazing. I love the sensation of a physical book too. Like I mentioned, I love the beauty of the Addie LaRue book. I got my Obama book in the mail yesterday. That’s a book that I bought in hardcover and then I bought on Audible too because I love listening to books, mostly memoirs, read by the people that wrote them. I had such a profound experience listening to Michelle Obama’s book. I had just had my second baby. It was winter. We were going on a lot of walks outside. I just listened to that book while I was pushing him in the stroller. I felt like I was absorbing her wisdom. She seems like such an amazing mother and person. I was like, this is making me a better mother as I listen to this. I really want to listen to his book too. Then the other night, I started Kristin Hannah’s new book.

Zibby: I did too. I started reading that a week ago or something, two weeks ago, something.

Sarah: We need to talk about it. I don’t want to ruin it for people.

Zibby: I know. I was so excited when it came. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I’m like, I cannot wait.

Sarah: We have a blog called the Amazon Book Review that’s on Amazon. I wrote about this on the blog. It was my weekend reading last week. I started it last Friday. My colleague, Erin, who manages the Best Book program and keeps us all on task, she knows how much I love Kristin Hannah. She would not let me read the book when I received it a month or so ago. She was like, “You’re not caught up on your December reading yet.” I actually listened to her. I’m such a rule-follower. I caught up on all my reading so that I could start it. On Friday nights my older son sleeps with my husband in our playroom. They have campouts. He’s a terrible sleeper. He normally ends up in our bed. Our baby sleeps through the night, thankfully. Friday nights are the most exciting night for me. I get to watch my shows and read and do whatever I want. Friday night, I opened up the advance copy. I just had that feeling that washes over you of the feeling of opening the new book when it’s really big and it’s a big fall book or something like that. I feel that way about Jonathan Franzen’s books. They’re moments. It’s just so satisfying. I was like, I’m so happy right now. That’s great. I’m very happy that all it takes to make me happy is opening a book. I like all formats. It really depends. I love listening to audiobooks when I walk. I do podcasts when I drive. I’m not driving that much these days. It sort of depends on the format. I only do cookbooks in print. I’m not a digital cookbook person. I love style, wellness books. I usually like those in print because, A, they tend to be beautiful, and B, I want to be able to reference them easily. I’m probably more a visual person that way. I would say I probably mostly read digitally. That was a very long answer to your question.

Zibby: I loved it. By the way, if you’re looking for a new — I listened to Jodie Patterson’s A Bold World on audio. You should try that. I did a lot of car rides back and forth. I interviewed her, and I felt I completely knew her. I think that probably creeped her out a little bit. I love listening to memoir in Audible. I’m just curious, with independent bookstores struggling — you’re working for Amazon. Obviously, Amazon is amazing. Everybody shops there. How could you not? What about all the independent bookstores out there right now who are going through a really hard time? Some, I would say, maybe blame Amazon for their demise. As such a huge book lover like I am, how do you deal with that issue?

Sarah: I have two different responses. One is a story. I was at BookExpo a couple years ago, which is, for those that don’t know, it used to be the big American publishing conference of the year. I was at a party at night with some of my colleagues. No one’s wearing nametags at that point. It’s a party at night. I ended up in a conversation with a bookseller from Rainy Day Books, actually, in Kansas City. She said, “I’m so-and-so.” I said, “Hi, I’m Sarah Gelman from Amazon.” She kind of said, “Oh. I’m not going to talk to you.” I can’t believe I’m forgetting her name. I’m not going to say it anyway. I said, “I’m Sarah Gelman. We worked together when I was at Knopf. I helped bring Anne Rice to you.” She was like, “Oh, Sarah!” I am the same book lover I was twenty years ago, but I work for a different company. What I see at Amazon is a group of people that care so much about reading. My team especially, again, when I say we’re passionate, we fight like family. I always say that they’re my dysfunctional family, my other dysfunctional family. The things that people are going through now with the pandemic are just unprecedented. It feels like the only word that I can say.

Independent bookstores do so much good, whether it’s their staff picks and people being able to have the serendipity of walking in and seeing a beautiful book in person and wanting to pick it up, being a place for community, a place where they can have book clubs, have different kinds of meetings, and readings of course. They add so much value. I think they’re incredibly important to support. It’s funny. I just sent emails from some of my local stores — my local store where I live right now is called Island Books. It’s an awesome bookstore. I’m on Mercer Island in Washington outside of Seattle. Then actually, a former Amazon editor from this team that I’m on now, Tom Nissley, owns a bookstore in Seattle called Phinney Books. Then there’s one now in a neighborhood. I think it’s called Madison Park Books. I just sent their newsletters out to some people on my team because I just love how they’re still — Island Books, they’re amazing. They have always had a program where if you order a book either online or by phone, they will deliver it to anyone on the island. For people that are older and can’t actually get to their store so easily, they get in their car and they drive it to you. They have a box outside where you can, again, order online or call and order, and they have a no-contact pickup box outside. They’re doing an amazing job.

Zibby: I feel like you should do a reality show of your group of editors sitting around talking about books.

Sarah: You have no idea.

Zibby: Seriously, that would be so fun to watch.

Sarah: I think we’re endlessly fascinating, but I’m also a total book nerd. There are book jokes. There are a lot of book jokes.

Zibby: Someone in the comments here asks, where was Dear Edward? That was one of my best reads. Was that on there?

Sarah: That was top one hundred. I love that book.

Zibby: Maybe I missed it in the category when I went through one by one. Maybe I missed it. Anyway, good. I’m glad it’s on there. That was really good.

Sarah: I really love that book. It’s funny. I don’t know if you had this experience. I loved the when they’re on the plane part better than the part that took place when he’s growing up. It reminded me of that book, The Fall. Is it Noah Hawley? I loved that book so much. It’s sort of like that and Lost put together. That’s a great book. This is so subjective. There are books that were huge books that aren’t on this list and books that people might not have heard of. It’s not necessarily about name recognition. It’s an imperfect, unscientific process.

Zibby: The thing I like about books, airplane-type things or crowds, why people randomly get thrown together and then all their backstories. I always wonder when I’m in a trapped situation like on a plane or somewhere, what’s everybody else going through? Or in a spinning room even or something. Everyone has so many stories going on. If only we knew when we saw them or could press play and watch them.

Sarah: That book and, not to bring up another TV show, Lost, perfect example of that. It’s been a while since I read Dear Edward. Someone is reflecting on this woman that seems like they’re not feeling well. Then you learn later that she’s pregnant. It’s like, yes, you have no idea what these people are going through and what their morning was like. That’s a pretty important lesson to take through life right now in general. You never know what the person behind you at the grocery store just experienced. They might be being nasty, but…

Zibby: My dream is one day people walk around with shirts that say, going through infertility treatments; my mother just died; having horrible stomach pain for six months, what’s going on with me? or just all these things that you wouldn’t know and nobody would tell you, but as soon as you saw that, you would have immediate empathy and compassion for the person. Maybe if they were in line in front of you, you wouldn’t be so annoyed and rude about it.

Sarah: I feel like reading sort of teaches you to look for that in people. You’re getting into someone else’s thoughts in a way that you can’t even — for people that are big TV watchers — again, I love TV. I feel like — I don’t want to say nosey. That feels like a bad thing to say. I’m a very curious person. I want to know everyone’s backstory and all of that stuff that you only want to talk to your therapist about. That’s one of the reasons why I love reading and why I love those big family sagas.

Zibby: If we weren’t talking so much about books, I would be trying to find out all of your sorted past and your personal life. No, I’m kidding.

Sarah: We’re going to do that over a glass of wine another time.

Zibby: We’ll have to do it another time. I don’t want to run over. I know you have a big interview coming up.

Sarah: Can I answer one more question? Do you mind?

Zibby: Do I mind? No, of course.

Sarah: I saw the question come in, when do you read?

Zibby: Oh, where is that question? Sorry, I missed it.

Sarah: Oh, no, I saw a couple questions coming in.

Zibby: Sorry, yes, in the chat.

Sarah: I was an English major. When do you read? This is something that I love to talk about because much like the name of your podcast, people are always like, I never have time to read. I am here to tell you that you do have time to read. I feel like I have a pretty full life. I have two little kids. I have two dogs and two cats and a job and everything. My secret is I read every night before I go to bed. That’s when I do all my work reading. I don’t, unfortunately, sit around during the workday and read all day. I am at my computer and in meetings. I make it a point to read every night. I can capture an hour of reading. Sometimes I read for five minutes. Then I literally fall asleep with the book waking me up when it hits my face. I don’t feel guilty about the amount of time that I spend. When you say something like, I can only work out for five minutes, you’re still working out for five minutes.

Just make it a habit. You’ll start seeing that you can do it. Also, you’ll start seeing that you will fall in love with that story and want to spend more time doing it. So often, people that say they don’t have time to read are scrolling their phones before they go to bed. Put your phone away. It is a drug. It is giving you the effects of a drug. Just pick up a book, whatever it is. Then also, the idea of recapturing time in your day — I know that you listen to audiobooks when you walk your dog. That’s a perfect time. You mentioned you interviewed the author of Can’t Even. I interviewed her over email. I asked her what she does to avoid burnout. She said that she doesn’t like to multitask. She likes to singularly focus on one thing. Now I do feel a little guilty because I’ll walk our dogs and I’ll listen to a book at the same time. I’m listening to The Chiffon Trenches, the André Leon Talley book, right now.

Zibby: I had him on.

Sarah: Oh, my gosh, if anyone’s looking for an audiobook. I want him to read everything to me, his French accent. I want to meet him. I don’t know what I would wear.

Zibby: I’m going to send you the link. I have it on YouTube also. I’ll send it to you. He’s so funny. It was great.

Sarah: I take back that walk time. I’m spending time with myself, exercising my dogs, exercising my body, and reading. It’s just really all about that. My other easy tip — I have so many more too. I am a huge Goodreads Reading Challenge person. I set a goal at the beginning of the year. I log every single book that I read. My secrets are, I only log books that I know I’m going to finish. With my job, sometimes I start a book that I — I hate this, but sometimes I don’t finish them. If I don’t love them, I just don’t finish them. Once I start reading enough that I know I’ll finish it, then I will put it on “currently reading” and then “read.” I also have a rule that I don’t log parenting books or relationship books because I know that other people follow my book picks. I feel like that’s private. You don’t need to know my issues with my children and my husband. Other than that, I log all my books there. It keeps me accountable. It’s just like having any sort of goal and answering to it. I have done very well this year on my reading goal. Just setting that goal and working towards something, it’s accountability, the same as anything else.

Zibby: Do you include children’s books? One of the questions.

Sarah: I don’t, actually. I would include a young adult book that I’m reading for myself. Black Brother, Black Brother, a book that you mentioned, I loved that book.

Zibby: So good.

Sarah: I find myself bringing that book up, weirdly, all the time and talking about fencing and how there’s something so poetic about, in fencing, everyone looks like same. I interviewed Chelsea Clinton earlier this year. She writes about the female Muslim Olympian who is the fencing athlete. That idea that fencing was something that she could do and still be in the dress that she needed to wear for her beliefs but also be athletic and be the best in her field, I just think there’s something so beautiful about that. That book, I would record. When I read my kids — I’m trying to think what they’re super into right now. Oh, my gosh, one of my sons is really into The Nightmare Before Christmas. I think other people are horrified by this, but we keep reading the book that is sort of the kids’ version of it. I don’t log those. Thankfully, my kids both love to read. I think part of it is they see me doing it, and so they want to model. They also, frankly, see me on my phone. They’ll pick up my phone and say, “Hello?” which I think is cute but also sort of sad. They also just pick up books. They want to read. I’ll say, “Time for dinner.” My little baby will say, “Jaime reading.” I love that.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I was reading a book, Danny and the Dinosaur, to my littler guy. My seven-year-old daughter was like, “Wait, I missed the beginning.” She grabs it out of our hands. She’s like, “I’m just going to take that and read it. Bye. I’m reading.” I’m like, you know what, you stay up as long as you want if you want to read. That’s fine by me. Just one other question if you have two more seconds. Other than bookstore newsletters, what are other ways you get books on your radar?

Sarah: Amazon is one of them. Obviously, through work, publishers are sharing books with us and pitching us, probably the same way they pitch you, Zibby. I learn about a lot of the books that I want to read then. Literally, my job is then to share that wealth with other readers. Like everyone else, I listen to recommendations from people I trust. Actually, all three of the top three of these books are books that I read later than the rest of the team, and especially Migrations. My teammate, Al Woodworth, she’s such a great reader. She has amazing taste. She told us early in the year when she read this, “This is my favorite book of the year.” I feel like that’s something I listen to, when someone whose recommendations I trust and who reads — I don’t even know how she reads so much. So much. When she says, “This is my favorite book of the year,” I listen to that. Same thing with Blacktop Wasteland. Actually, when I started it, I didn’t love the first twenty pages or so. I told my team that. They were like, “You got to keep reading this.” I got to a point in this book where — I’m usually literally correctly here — I literally stayed up until I finished it. I could not put it down. My heart was racing. I’ll hold it up just so you can see the jacket, Blacktop Wasteland. People always say, what should I bring on the plane? This is the book that you want to bring on a plane when you’re in planes again. You pick it up. You open it. Then you’ll look up, and you’ll be across the country. No time has passed, except you’ll be dripping sweat because it’s a crazy ride. Those are all books that, they’re our top three of the year. They’re books that I learned about because my colleagues, whom I trust, were telling me that they thought they were amazing. I listen to recommendations.

Zibby: I felt the same way about The Vanishing Half and also Writers & Lovers by Lily King. Both those books, it got dark out or I stayed up late at night. I just couldn’t stop. I could not stop reading. It’s the best feeling.

Sarah: I love both of those books. I saw that Writers & Lovers was on your list of books to help you through grief. I love that book because it’s sort of like her mother’s death is there the whole time and is arguably the biggest theme in the book, yet it’s talked about the least. It shows how something like that just seeps into your entire life and takes it over even if it’s not what you’re seeing every day. I just love that book.

Zibby: It’s like grief goes with you. It’s how to integrate grief into your life, not what you do when you’re sitting crying at the very beginning. Anyway, Sarah, thank you so much for all of your time. Please, let’s continue this. I could talk about a thousand other books with you. Oh, my gosh, please. This was so fun. Thank you. Thanks for all your time.

Sarah: Thank you so much. This was really fun. I can’t wait to talk again.

Zibby: Me too. Bye.

Sarah: Bye.