“Moms don’t have time to read books,” Zibby Owens jokingly told her partner when he suggested she turn some of her essays into a book. But that phrase soon became the name of her buzzy podcast and, later, a publishing empire. The mother of four has also recently opened a bookstore in Los Angeles.
“The night before we visited the empty storefront, two team members and I were having drinks and discussing what books we’d carry,” Zibby told us. “We got a big piece of paper to draw out a whole map of different categories. We were like, ‘Let’s make it fun!’ and ‘Let’s make a shelf of book recs for anxious people!’ We were cracking ourselves up, but those shelves we dreamed up are actually in the store today.”
Zibby is a voracious reader and generous recommender, so we asked for some suggestions. (And we’d love to ask other people, in the future!) Here, Zibby shares her favorite memoir and what to try if you’ve been in a reading slump…
What’s a recent read that kept you up late?
How to Stay Married by Harrison Scott Key: “I spent an entire weekend clutching this book to my chest. I even read it in the car. Harrison is absolutely hilarious but also introspective, repentant and clear-eyed about why his wife ended up cheating on him and how they tried to reconcile, repeatedly. I laughed out loud, while also rethinking all my past relationships. I will read anything he writes from now on.”
What’s a book that helped you through a hard time?
Black Widow by Leslie Gray Streeter: “When my mother-in-law was hospitalized with Covid for six weeks and ultimately died, I was trying so hard to be there for my husband. I was dealing with the pandemic, the fear, and of course my husband’s reaction to this horrific situation. I read Leslie Gray Streeter’s Black Widow as this was all happening. Even though I’m not a widow, I could relate to how she found the absurd humor in some of the worst moments of grief. It helped me feel less alone during a uniquely terrible time.”
What’s a truly epic novel?
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: “This novel follows light-skinned Black twin sisters who grow up to live in two very different worlds — one white, one Black. I could not get off the couch reading this book and read it past sunset. My husband had to turn on the lights.”
What’s a good book to pick up if you’re in a reading funk?
The Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop: “This escapist thrill is a coming-of-age story meets midlife malaise, in Greece! Who knew that was the perfect combination?! With two timelines in one woman’s life — her teenage summer of love and intrigue in Greece with a much older man who has suspicious friends, and then later as an older woman in a humdrum marriage — the reader is catapulted back and forth between the Greek islands and London, between passion and feeling stuck. My favorite part — aside from the plot, which unfolds in a delicious, heart-pounding way — are the quieter lines about the lives not lived. There’s a soulfulness to the whole story.”
Who’s a writer that really makes you laugh?
Hope by Andrew Ridker: “This dark comedy had me laughing out loud in recognition of some of the characters. It follows the Greenspan family in Brookline, Massachusetts, and what happens when the cardiologist dad is forced out of his profession after falsifying blood samples. A perfect read.”
How about a book that stayed with you long after finishing it?
A Place For Us by Brandon J. Wolf: “Brandon was at the mass shooting at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, and he lost two close friends. The book also follows his search for identity after his Black mother passed away when he was a child, leaving him with his white stepfather and half-siblings as a queer, mixed-race boy. It was sensational; I have the utmost respect for Brandon and cannot stop thinking about this book. Mark my words: Brandon J. Wolf will run this country one day!”
Is there a recent memoir you’ve enjoyed?
Everything All at Once by Steph Catudal: “The way Steph writes, even about ordinary things, takes my breath away. But her life story — her brother’s childhood cancer, her father’s early death to lung cancer, and the cancer that comes for her beloved endurance-athlete husband — is incredibly powerful. The details she describes, the slivers of pain, and her inquiry into faith is just different from other memoirs. It’s so real and gratifying.”
Have any reads surprised you lately?
The House of Eve by Sadequa Johnson: “This novel, set in the 1950s, surprised me with its depiction of a relationship between a Black teenage girl and her Jewish teenage neighbor and the reverberating effects of their flirtations. It’s a dynamic I haven’t read about a lot, and I loved the book.”
Finally, authors I follow on social media often say that pre-orders are the best way to support a new book. It’s also fun because I’ll pre-order something I’m excited about, totally forget, and then several weeks later a book shows up like a surprise from a previous me who knew I’d like it. Can you recommend a forthcoming book we can pre-order?
Hell If We Don’t Change Our Ways by Brittany Means: “We’re publishing the first book of Brittany Means, and I could not be more proud. Brittany has overcome so much to write one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Kiese Laymon, Jeannette Walls, and Ashley C. Ford have already raved and raved about it. Brittany is an author who will break out in a huge way this October.”
Thank you, Zibby! What books do you recommend to friends? We’d love to hear…
(Opening photo by Katie + Joe/Stocksy. Book covers via their respective publishers. Photograph of Zibby via Zibby Owens.)
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