For Ijeoma Oluo, Books and Bedtime Are a Perfect Combination
“Lately, I’ve been able to find a few minutes to read in bed each night after my family has gone to sleep,” says the author of “Mediocre,” “and it’s been absolutely heavenly.”
What books are on your night stand?
Right now I have “Wow, No Thank You,” by Samantha Irby, and an early copy of “The Prophets,” by Robert Jones Jr., on my night stand. Oh, and I also have a copy of “What Wood Is That?: A Manual of Wood Identification,” by Herbert L. Edlin (I’ve taken to buying vintage furniture lately).
What’s the last great book you read?
Wow, I’ve read so many lately! I have A.D.D., so if the book doesn’t really keep my interest, it’s impossible for me to finish. But a few weeks back I read “The Book of Lost Saints,” by Daniel Jose Older and I just keep thinking about it. It’s a book you can’t put down — even after you’re done reading it.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
For me, reading for pleasure can be very difficult. Often, my brain doesn’t want to calm down and cooperate. But lately, I’ve been able to find a few minutes to read in bed each night after my family has gone to sleep and it’s been absolutely heavenly.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
I’ve long loved the book “Being Dead,” by Jim Crace, and so far — even after giving multiple copies away over the years — I only have one other person in my circle who’s read it. To me, it’s such a beautiful story about life and love, but I guess my friends don’t want to read a love story where they die in the first few pages.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
Oh, these questions could each be their own book! Hmm. Carmen Maria Machado is just a game-changer in contemporary horror, Damon Young is literally the funniest human alive right now, N .K. Jemisin has helped me see world-building as a tool of Black liberation, Jason Reynolds is perhaps the coolest person in the literary world, and Phoebe Robinson is determined to chart new pathways in publishing and to bring us all with her.
Your new book, “Mediocre,” takes a hard look at the legacy of white men in positions of power. What writers are especially good on the intersection of America’s racial politics and feminism?
For some favorites I must start with Kimberlé Crenshaw, and I would add “Sister Citizen,” by Melissa V. Harris-Perry, “Women, Race and Class,” by Angela Davis, anything by Toni Morrison or Audre Lorde. Oh, and I just finished “Minor Feelings,” by Cathy Park Hong and it was fantastic.
Do you count any books as guilty pleasures?
I’m a sucker for British murder mysteries. All that white-on-white crime.
How do you organize your books?
We recently lost all our books in a fire. But my old collection was organized loosely by subject (sci-fi, politics, history, etc.) but then there were a few special sections: books by people I know, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, and books that are in timeout (I’m mad at the book or the author).
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
In my bookshelves you would usually find a large section of books for each hobby I was obsessed with for a brief period of time in my life. Many people are astounded to find the “running” section, the “weaving” section or the “doll painting” section.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was a voracious reader as a child. I read the same favorites that every kid did (The Baby-Sitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, etc.) but I also would try to find some representation of myself in books as a poor, awkward, Black, queer kid. I also always loved a bit of fantasy or mystery. Childhood favorite authors that I kept on my bookshelf well into adulthood were Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Cooper, Caleb Carr, Lorraine Hansberry and Alice Walker.
How have your reading tastes changed over time?
I used to look at a 500-600 page book with excitement, like: “Yay! Even more words to read!” Now I’m like, “Nope, never going to have the time or attention span to read that.”
What book would you recommend for America’s current political moment?
Mine! Seriously, it’s what I wrote it for. But also “Are Prisons Obsolete?,” by Angela Y. Davis, and “White Identity Politics,” by Ashley Jardina.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I was all set to love “The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle,” as I adore British murder mysteries with a magical twist — but man, the virulent fatphobia in the book really made it painful to read. I had to put it down.
What do you plan to read next?
I’m trying to talk my partner into forming a two-person book club with me. I’m hoping that “Mexican Gothic,” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, will be our first selection.
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