Laura Gerald [00:00:00] I read everything on my mom’s bookshelf. She was a guidance counselor. I even read her guidance counselor books. I don’t know if you remember that, Mona. I could probably run a pretty good small group session right now.
Anne Bogel [00:00:18] Hey readers, I’m Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next? Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader, what should I read next? We don’t get bossy on the show. What we will do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading and dig into the details of our reading lives.
[00:00:48] Readers, whether you’re thinking about spring break activities or Easter basket gifts, or simply thinking ahead towards summer, the My Reading Adventures Book Journal for Kids may be just the thing the young people in your life want and need right now.
This journal is a great gift for the 8 to 12-year-old crowd. It’s full of creative reading activities, book lists, space to record what they’ve read and loved, and so much more. For something that they’ll hold onto and possibly even cherish when they’re older, I mean, I sure wish I had my reading journals from when I was a kid, look for My Reading Adventures wherever you buy your books or online at modernmrsdarcy.com.
If you picked up a copy, would you be so kind as to leave a review online? Your five-star review makes a big difference when it comes to your fellow readers buying the journal with confidence. Pick up a copy of My Reading Adventures wherever you buy your books or online at Modernmrsdarcy.com. Leave your review on your favorite online shopping platform. Thank you so very much and happy reading.
[00:01:44] Today’s episode is a long time in the making. I first met sisters Laura Gerald-Simms and Ramona Gavin in 2019 when I was in Winston-Salem for an event with Charlie Lovett at the wonderful bookstore, Bookmarks NC.
Ramona and Laura seemed to know everyone in the place. They were fun and passionate about books and reading, and our conversation made me think, I wish we could talk all night.
We’ve gotten to connect on my subsequent visits to Bookmarks, of which there have been many, and every time I’d come away thinking, I sure would love to have them on the show. And today, that’s what we’re doing.
I can’t wait to chat with these two about how important books were to them as children growing up in the rural South, about how reading has framed their equity journeys and lived experiences as Black women, and the way books and the library bring more joy into their busy lives. Let’s get to it.
Laura and Ramona, welcome to the show.
Laura Gerald [00:02:34] Thank you. We’re glad to be here.
Ramona Gavin [00:02:36] Thank you, Anne.
Anne Bogel [00:02:37] I’m so grateful you all are here. I’ve been wanting to have this conversation for a long time. And y’all are not usually podcasters. I’d love to hear a little bit about what you are each doing when you’re not talking to me about books or hanging out at Bookmarks NC. Laura, what about you?
Laura Gerald [00:02:56] Well, it’s interesting these days. I’m a mom of two boys, and so I spend a lot of my time at various sports events that I never thought I would like, like wrestling and football and tennis. But in my day job, I’m actually a pediatrician by training but I’ve spent most of my career in more population health.
I work as a philanthropist during the day. So we give away money for a living. And believe it or not, that’s harder than it sounds.
Anne Bogel [00:03:27] That sounds fascinating. If this were a different sort of podcast, I would have so many follow-up questions. But that sounds really interesting.
Laura Gerald [00:03:34] It is.
Anne Bogel [00:03:35] Ramona, what about you?
Ramona Gavin [00:03:36] Interestingly enough, I am a… I’m going to say newly retired, although not really. It’s been three years now, which I can’t believe that. But I’m a retired educator. I was working in a school system of some sort, one or another, for 34 years, and decided that when COVID started, it was time to change venues.
So I moved from Virginia to North Carolina, and I am loving my time being able to sit down with my sister, my nephews, and actually my daughter. My oldest recently has moved to the area, so I’m loving spending time with her. My husband and I are traveling, and just enjoying this time in life.
Typically on a Tuesday morning, I’ll be having a cup of coffee looking out in my backyard, and deciding what the day holds. So just enjoying this time in life.
Anne Bogel [00:04:31] That sounds very exciting and a little bit challenging as well.
Ramona Gavin [00:04:34] Yes, it is. It is because when you’ve been a person that’s been kind of driven and had a very clear sense of what your day holds, being able to wake up and decide is providing some challenges, but challenges that I welcome, that I’m just looking forward to. And I’m trying to just take one day at a time and go from there.
Anne Bogel [00:04:55] Now, we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit over the years because I keep coming back to North Carolina and you keep coming to Winston, and I really appreciate both those things. And I feel like over the years, bit by bit, we’ve kind of assembled an idea of what we wanted to talk about on this show.
And as I’ve often said, something that’s wonderful about books and reading and about what we do here is when you’re talking about what you love to read, you’re talking about so much of what matters in life and what matters in your life specifically. And I’ve so enjoyed getting to learn, just through our emails and conversations, a little bit about your all’s backgrounds and reading lives. But our listeners haven’t gotten to hear that yet. Would you share that with them? Laura, why don’t you get the ball rolling?
Laura Gerald [00:05:37] Sure. So even though we’re in Chapel Hill now, we actually grew up in a part of North Carolina that is, well, everyone else knows as persistently poor and underserved. We grew up in a rural small town, and I didn’t know really till I was an adult that it was poor. But come to find out we didn’t have a lot of opportunities for exposure.
So for me, reading has always been my means of exposure. And I literally read everything I could get my hands on. And it ranged from like The Hobbit to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. We spent a lot of time in the library.
I read everything on my mom’s bookshelf. She was a guidance counselor. I even read her guidance counselor books. I don’t know if you remember that, Mona.
Ramona Gavin [00:06:30] Yeah.
Laura Gerald [00:06:30] I could probably run a pretty good small group session right now. I hope so. I don’t know if you remember, there was a romance on the… Do you remember Shannon?
Ramona Gavin [00:06:41] I do. I do.
Laura Gerald [00:06:42] I read that romance book. Anyway, I just read everything. And I loved reading as a child. That’s how mom made us quiet, by promising she would buy books for us. But then as I got older and started to think about college, I started to gravitate towards more books that were pertinent to my experience as an African-American. We are Black.
And I remember writing my college admissions essay on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was very instrumental in helping us to explore the fact that black is beautiful and to have pride in our heritage. And so that kind of theme of delving more into my culture and history as an African American went all the way through college and into my professional life.
[00:07:37] You know, we got into Black women writers in college. Quicksand and Passing, Their Eyes Were Watching God are probably my favorite books of all time by Zora Neale Hurston. And also got into some of the literature of social reflection like James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
I remember sitting on my bed in college just weeping. I mean, just weeping. When he goes into the Beatitudes in the middle of that book, I just… It was about poor people in the Midwest. And they were primarily quite a different experience from mine but I could so relate to their sort of conditions that they were living in.
So professionally and personally, again, in those later reading years, I delved into more history, which, believe it or not, even growing up Black and being Black all our lives, there’s just so much that we don’t know about our history
Anne Bogel [00:08:40] Yes. And it’s been so interesting for me to hear how understanding more has really changed things for you.
Laura Gerald [00:08:44] Yeah. And frankly, it’s one of the things that I credit Bookmarks with. You know, as we got older and found this community of book lovers at the nonprofit bookstore in Winston-Salem, and by being a part of that and Well-Read Black Girl, we were exposed to a whole lot of titles by Black writers and African-American writers and writers of African descent and Hispanic writers that we just never would have been exposed to. And so that’s one of the things that really sparked my interest.
We have to tell the Anne story as well.
Anne Bogel [00:09:25] Was the Anne story?
Laura Gerald [00:09:27] I just so vividly remember that at one of the Bookmarks events, we discovered your book journal. And it was like, “Wow, wait a minute, we could write about the books that we have.” And there was another lady who had like decorated her journal and everything. I had sticky notes in the journal even from the Bookmarks event. And I started giving them away for Christmas and all this stuff. Anyway.
So I have since now been journaling about writing. I’ve also joined the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, and it’s opened up a whole new world for us and exposure to titles that we wouldn’t have been exposed to.
Anne Bogel [00:10:11] Well, I’m so glad you found some sources and resources and communities that really worked for you. And I’m honored to be part of that. Thank you.
Before we go back in time to Ramona’s early experience with books, you have to tell me a little bit about your sibling dynamics. I don’t know who’s older. That feels like a big gap. Should I be able to guess? I’m thinking I probably should.
Ramona Gavin [00:10:32] Well, this is Ramona, and I am the oldest. I’m the oldest by 4 years. My mother was… I don’t even know what her secrets were, but they were four of us. Both of our brothers have passed away in pretty recent years, which was tragic in itself. And we were very, very close. We’re all four years apart.
So the order was the two boys were born first, and then I was the first girl, and then four years later along came Laura. So it is, I don’t know, we had… I felt like a very, very dynamic family structure. And I would have never imagined that the two of us would still be here without our brothers. But here we are.
And if you can’t tell, I mean, we just have been so close all through the years. Our father died when we were very young, so we really were such a close unit because we were all we had. Growing up in the rural South, our mother was such a strong matriarch. And we lived near our grandparents. So we just had been a very close-knit family.
And now, without our brothers, the two of us, I think, have been even that much more close. So with me moving back to the area, that was certainly one of the things that brought me back to is that it just… You know, you realize you don’t have forever. And I could not imagine that I was going to continue to live and not be able to spend even more time together.
You need to know, too, and I don’t know… You know, I’m not a big [inaudible 00:12:08] kind of person or any of that kind of stuff. But we’re both VOs and both summer babies and we just are so similar in so many ways.
You know, for your listeners, we were talking in the podcast about not talking over each other. We’re so used to kind of finishing each other’s sentences. It was a good thing that you said that because it’s hard for us both again to sit back and not talk at the same time because, you know, and she was sharing her reading life with you, oh my gosh, I mean, I could just see myself in so much of that.
Now, what you need to understand, Laura, has always been just an amazing person and amazing brain, and she always has been… I always said, you know, just a little more studious than I was. She was always very focused on what she needed to do and that kind of thing.
We were kind of latchkey children too. As you can imagine, my mother worked full-time. So I would kind of stop by and pick her up on my way home from school and we’d come home and she would get right to work, working on her homework and reading and all those things. And you know, I was kind of snacking and watching TV.
But my reading life is similar in that we both just were always kind of looking for something to expand our world. And that’s kind of how I think of my early years of reading. It was, yes, we had a wonderful experience. I felt like we had wonderful years of experience in Lumberton.
My mother worked very hard to make sure that we were exposed to some things that we certainly would not have been exposed to just in our existence in Lumberton. But she worked to try and get us to camps and those kinds of things, make sure we had library cards and got to the library and took summer vacations. I mean, not vacations. A vacation was always a week at the beach. But she made sure we did that every single year-
Laura Gerald [inaudible 00:14:06]
Ramona Gavin [00:14:06] That’s true. It wasn’t even a whole week.
Laura Gerald [00:14:08] Yeah, we didn’t spend a week at the beach.
Ramona Gavin [00:14:11] But, you know, she tried. She tried. So reading was really kind of that thing that expanded our world. You know, I kind of read fantastical kinds of things like The Lord of the Rings and those kinds of things that took you to worlds that certainly didn’t exist, but allowed you to just really use your imagination.
And I do remember I read Gone With the Wind which mom had on her shelf, and I just couldn’t even imagine this world. But you know, Scarlett O’Hara, I just thought, “Wow, what a hero!” even though it was during a crazy time and oppressive time.
But I have always really liked strong characters and characters that overcame odds. And I have found that even as I have expanded as an adult reader, I still tend to look for books where there are strong characters, very believable characters, characters who are kind of achieving against all odds kind of thing, and authors that support strong character or that create strong characters.
[00:15:21] So it has really been a journey in that sense. But also I tend to be a reader that reflects the times too. And I will say in light of the George Floyd happenings and having time during COVID and having retired, that type of thing, over the past I’d say ten years or so even, my reading has certainly, I’d say, transitioned more to expanding my understanding of the African-American flight and kind of reflections of our times.
So things like The Warmth of Other Suns, Americanah, things that give me experiences or give me different perspectives of the Black experience. And as Laura said, I mean you would think we are African-American women and grew up in a very African-American setting. I mean, we grew up in a time where all of the children in my elementary classes were Blacks, we went to schools that were in your neighborhood.
It wasn’t until, you know, really in junior high and middle school, high school that you had kind of classes with diverse settings. And then, of course, college. But there was still a lot about our history, about our people that we were just not aware of. And reading has certainly brought a much deeper awareness of that. And that has been of much more interest to me over the past ten years or so.
Anne Bogel [00:16:53] Is it accurate to say that you’ve taken that education really upon yourselves through the books you sought out?
Ramona Gavin [00:16:58] Oh, for sure. For sure.
Laura Gerald [00:17:00] Yes. And don’t tell Harvard that they didn’t educate me-
Anne Bogel [00:17:06] Harvard is not going to take my call. So you’re in the clear.
Laura Gerald [00:17:08] I took what I could there. Like I said, our mom was an English teacher. So we grew up with a very firm sense of reading and books and things. So, you know, I don’t want to in any way take away what she did for us in terms of instilling this love of reading. And education was the only thing that mattered growing up in this town.
So literally she, as a single Black woman from a very under-resourced area, sent three of her kids to Harvard and one to UNC System School. And of course, I can say that because Mona is the most successful of all of us, but she won’t say.
Ramona Gavin [00:17:51] Oh my gosh.
Laura Gerald [00:17:52] And so we’re not doubting, you know, any school that’s not Harvard, but it really is quite a remarkable story. And although we have lost our two older brothers, Mona and I also we’re breast cancer survivors. So that’s another reason that we’re so close.
We’re really just the poster children for… if we could get out of the plight that we’re in by pulling ourselves up by bootstraps and just educating ourselves, then our two brothers would be alive today. And I’m not saying that, you know, racism killed my brothers, but there’s definitely something about this experience that we’ve gone through as African-Americans that is very toxic.
Like we said, our father died young, my grandfather died young. I mean, it’s not just what the individuals do. We really, as a society, have to deal with the intergenerational African-American experience and the toll that it’s taken on us.
Anne Bogel [00:18:54] Yeah, I appreciate you sharing that. Laura, is that something that your public health work focuses on?
Laura Gerald [00:18:59] It actually is. Yeah. So when I say we give away money for a living, the foundation that I work for is actually a health foundation. So we try to improve health. And we are doing so in a way that goes through racial equity because we know we can’t get there any other way.
Anne Bogel [00:19:17] Is there a resource that you’d like to point our readers toward that you personally recommend and would endorse that we could put in our show notes where they could go find out more?
Laura Gerald [00:19:25] Oh, actually our website, www.kbr.org, K as in Kate, B as in Baby, R as in Ramona. There’s a lot on the website about the work that we do and the role of equity in that work.
Anne Bogel [00:19:44] Y’all have mentioned how important the library was in your upbringing and I believe continues to be.
Laura Gerald [00:19:48] Yes. Oh, my goodness. Okay. I was just at the library last night. I go to the library like it is a full-time job. They also have a lot of suggestions at the library. I have, in my possession right now… For February, they had a blind date book and I got that and it was awesome. I haven’t read it. But I just liked opening up the paper and seeing the books. They recommend books-
Anne Bogel [00:20:19] Wait, Laura, tell us what it was. Tell me the thing.
Laura Gerald [00:20:25] Hang on.
Ramona Gavin [00:20:25] She’s gone to get the book now.
Anne Bogel [00:20:28] Oh, excellent.
Ramona Gavin [00:20:29] She really does though. The library for me is smaller than the Chapel Hill Library. But I just love the quaintness. I will go with there… It has these floor-to-ceiling windows. And I love to go in there and find that little spot. And I’ll grab about ten books that are of interest and I’ll just put them all around me and try to decide which one sparks my interest.
And I will say I have kind of a system. So I try to get kind of like what the new something is out, what’s a popular book, and then I might look for an author that is a favorite author of mine. And then I am a history junky. So I love historical fiction or I love documentary series or something that is kind of based on reality.
So I will find something that is a current issue that I might be interested in. Like right now I have a book about Tecumseh Sherman and his experiences with the Cherokee because I just find that to be a fascinating part of history too. So I kind of put all of that around me, then I make my choices. And I try not to get more than three because I just cannot read that many at one time. And typically I bring back something that I did not read.
But that’s kind of my process. But that’s one of my favorite days. And I do that once a month. So that’s one of the favorite days of my month. And that’s kinda thanks to Laura. Because I would do that at a bookstore, which is all nice too, but oh my gosh, my shelves cannot take too much more. Now she’s back with the book.
Laura Gerald [00:21:52] Oh, yes. So it’s a book I had never heard of before. The book that I got from the library for the blind date offering was My Mother’s House by Francesca Momplaisir. I don’t even know if I’m saying her last name correctly.
Anne Bogel [00:22:07] I don’t know this.
Laura Gerald [00:22:07] But I had never heard of. But She’s a Haitian-born, multilingual scholar. And I have had the library do you-will-like things for me. To that they suggested that I read, to Ramona’s point about history, was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. That was a World War II book. It was wonderful. And it’s in letter style. It’s fantastic.
And then I like presidential biographies. So Destiny of the Republic about James Garfield, President Garfield, that’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Ramona Gavin [00:22:43] He’s a fascinating person. I’d like to read that.
Anne Bogel [00:22:46] I’m so glad to hear the library still brings you so much joy. And it sounds like you have amazing libraries between you.
Laura Gerald [00:22:51] Absolutely. You can imagine the Capitol Hill Public Library is awesome, as is the Winston-Salem Public Library System as well.
Ramona Gavin [00:22:58] There’s nothing better than snagging something on the recent shelf that you know you couldn’t get if you deserved it.
Anne Bogel [00:23:09] Any great recent finds there?
Laura Gerald [00:23:11] Oh, my favorites recently were Lessons in Chemistry and Carrie Soto is Back. I read both of those and they were fantastic. I have never read any of the Taylor Jenkins Reid stuff, and loved it. And Lessons in Chemistry, I just love that. I think the scientists in me just love that. That dog that served as a parent, I love that dog and I’m not a dog person. Mona is, but I love that dog.
Anne Bogel [00:23:41] Oh, I’m so glad to hear it.
Ramona Gavin [00:23:42] My recent snack is Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult. I like Jodi Picoult. I was excited when I actually found that on the shelf. I had that in my “want to get” list. And when I saw that on the shelf, I was like, “Oh, that’s it. I’m going to get it in the library.” So that’s my latest little “Oh, look at this little piece that I’m getting from the library.”
Anne Bogel [00:24:04] That’s such a good feeling. Laura and Ramona, it’s been so wonderful to hear more about how books have been part of your journey. I wonder if you could both share a handful of titles that you’ve discovered along the way that have meant a lot to you, maybe ones that you think that it’s too bad more readers don’t know about.
Laura Gerald [00:24:24] This is Laura. I’ll go first. A lot of people know about Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, you know, because there was a movie about his life with Michael Jordan. But there is another book, The Sun Does Shine, and it is subtitled How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, and is written by Anthony Ray Hinton, one of the folks that Bryan Stevenson helped to free.
I think the reason I want more people to read that book is, yes, it chronicles the tragedy of the over-incarceration of Black people, but it does so in a way with such hope. And I think that that embodies sort of how I look at the African-American experience here.
It is tragic. It is horrible. It is full of things that we need to reckon with but there’s also an enduring hope that we have as a people. And so I wish more people would read his book. And he has not only this adult version but there’s also a children’s version or a teen, young adult version as well.
And then I really love Americanah, which is by… I think she’s a Nigerian author. And I love her. I don’t want to butcher her last name. You may know how to say it correctly.
Anne Bogel [00:25:55] Because I’ve Googled it. It’s Adichie.
Laura Gerald [00:25:57] I’ve even heard her speak like in graduations and things, and she’s fantastic. So those are two that I just want people to read.
Anne Bogel [00:26:07] Thank you. It’s always good to hear the books that people read and think, Ooh, why hasn’t everyone read this?
Ramona Gavin [00:26:13] Well, this is Ramona. So adding to that, because I also love Americanah, and it was just that perspective of a person from the diaspora moving to America. You know, we always have this notion of, Oh, well, everyone wants to come to America because we just have everything, and of course, why would you not love it?
And it was just so interesting hearing that perspective of this person who really had very specific reasons for moving here, but very much wanted to keep her identity as an African. And she brought a lot with her. And I think that’s something that we kind of always forget in this country, that people, yes, they want to come for the opportunities that are here, but they also have a great deal of pride. And it’s not that they just want to become American. So that was just a very interesting perspective in that book.
One of the other books, though, that just really affected me and I read within the last few years was The Warmth of Other Suns. I just think Isabel Wilkerson, the work that she is doing to bring light to our experiences is just amazing.
Of course, she wrote Caste also, but the Warmth of Other Suns, even though they speak to similar subjects, Caste is maybe a little more informational. She’s done the research and she’s documenting that research and she’s supporting her theories and beliefs.
Warmth of Other Suns is just a beautiful… it’s a beautiful story. It chronicles the journeys of various people from rural South, from very oppressive situations in the south to the north. Actually not even just the north, because some head north, some head west to California.
The things that they are looking for, what they’re hoping this is going to do to their lives. Some of them, they do have more positive experiences, but at the same time, they thought they were going to leave this oppressive situation and everything’s going to be great. And they experience oppression in their new cities.
So it was just a very awakening type of book written very beautifully. It’s not a small read, you have to commit. But it was just a wonderful time that I spent with this book, The Warmth of Other Suns, and I would hope that more people will. I mean, it’s a national bestseller, so it’s not like I’m letting out secrets. But it’s just a wonderful read.
[00:28:46] One of the things that excited me about this conversation, Anne, is in light of what is going on in this country with the efforts to suppress African-American education in schools, I think that the more people can expose themselves to ways to gain their own understanding and educate themselves through reading, through conversations with others, the better.
So I was just very excited that we were going to have this conversation because I know this is what has enhanced my experience and made me… I mean, I feel like I am a much more educated person about our experience than I was at that time. And I hope that other people, not just African-Americans, all people within the government is able to actually suppress this knowledge that people will continue to seek their own knowledge.
Anne Bogel [00:29:42] Well, you’ve spoken so much, the both of you, about how understanding more about your history has significantly changed things for you. I’m just really thinking of that as you’re speaking to present-day circumstances.
Laura Gerald [00:29:52] Yes, absolutely. And it’s an interesting time to say it because I’ve just come back from Montgomery, Alabama. I had to go there for a work trip, but part of that was experiencing the legacy museum there and the National Monument for Peace and Justice.
And, you know, we’re talking about books that chronicle these experiences, but that’s a way of up close and personal looking at it, along with the National Museum in Washington. So I’d say a combination, like you said, of reading and going to these sites that try to preserve the history, you know, have been some of the main ways.
Like I said, in this addition, just being Black all our lives, that we have had to, you know, understand this experience in this place that we live here in North Carolina and here in America. And we just want to be a small part of helping these places live up to the promise that they hold.
Anne Bogel [00:30:54] So it sounds like you’re saying that our experience, whatever it is, really shapes our understanding, and also there’s a lot to learn.
Ramona Gavin [00:31:02] Yes!
Laura Gerald [00:31:01] Yeah, absolutely. Lifelong learners. And that’s what I love about reading. You can engage in lifelong learning in an unlimited set of topics and experiences. And I hope you heard from all the titles that we’ve thrown out there.
You know, we have had a certain perspective on reading, but we have also gained so many new perspectives by reading. And again, coming from a small town where we weren’t necessarily exposed to a whole lot outside of our day-to-day lives, it’s just been invaluable. There’s no other way with the diversity of the world to really even touch the surface of it without reading.
Ramona Gavin [00:31:50] There’s just no other way.
Laura Gerald [00:31:50] So true. So true.
Anne Bogel [00:31:51] Now, as you all are scanning the horizons at the library, at the bookstore, just out there looking for what you might read today, what kind of titles do you keep an eye out for?
Ramona Gavin [00:32:01] Whoo! That is a good question. It’s so eclectic. It’s so eclectic. And we look for different ways to get to different titles. Actually, the Well-read Black Girl Book Club…
Laura Gerald: What’s the one where next time-
Ramona Gavin: Oh, we’re going to discuss Passing because [inaudible 00:32:23]. Then it is-
Laura Gerald [00:32:25] Behold the Dreamers? I think Behold the Dreamers is next. I’m looking forward to reading that. I’ve never read it before. At work, we’re doing a book club so we’re literally reading Homegoing, oh my God, by Yaa Gyasi. I don’t know if I’m saying her name right either. But oh my gosh, that one’s a toughie. But I’m getting through that. I tried to get through that before but it was so traumatizing. I haven’t been able to really finish it, but I’m going to finish it this time.
But then we’ll go from that to Tylor Jenkins Reid’s next book. I want to read her The Seven Husbands, the Hugo one.
Ramona Gavin [00:32:59] Evelyn Hugo.
Laura Gerald [00:33:01] Evelyn Hugo.
Anne Bogel [00:33:02] The historical fiction that Ramona likes
Laura Gerald [00:33:04] Oh, yeah. I think we both really like historical fiction.
Ramona Gavin [00:33:08] Yes.
Laura Gerald [00:33:08] Like I said, I like presidential biographies for some strange reason. I like those. And just, you know, contemporary fiction I think that’s also very interesting. Being in science, I didn’t read a whole lot of the classics, literature classics, but slightly more contemporary fiction is sort of among them. Oh, and we love mysteries. I love thrillers.
Ramona Gavin [00:33:30] Yes. I was going to say I love thrillers. I love a mystery.
Laura Gerald [00:33:34] Anywhere You Run. What is it? Wanda Morris has a second one out. It is kind of a thriller mystery, and I’m enjoying reading that one, too.
Anne Bogel [00:33:44] Laura and Ramona, you mentioned that you would not be averse to hearing about some titles that may be a good fit for you. What do you think?
Ramona Gavin [00:33:51] We would definitely love to hear about titles. Yes!
Anne Bogel [00:33:55] I don’t think we’ve touched on your cookbook collection, have we?
Laura Gerald [00:33:58] No.
Ramona Gavin [00:33:58] Oh, my gosh! That’s a podcast in itself. Hopefully you have heard through this conversation we both are very thorough in our pursuit of whatever it is that we might be interested in learning a little more about. So we won’t just find one title, two titles. We will scour the shelves. So between the two of us, our cookbook collection is unbelievable. Unbelievable.
Anne Bogel [00:34:33] So you’re scouring the shelves for the perfect fits.
Ramona Gavin [00:34:35] Yes.
Laura Gerald [00:34:35] No, I read books like a novel. I do not cook the recipe. It is not for the recipes because we cook Southern, you know, without recipes and things like that. But I read them like novels, like cover to cover. I literally just go through every page and read it. They’re wonderful.
Ramona Gavin [00:34:54] But now… Okay, she’s overlooking that. We do enjoy cooking too.
Laura Gerald [00:34:58] Oh, yeah.
Ramona Gavin [00:34:58] So when we get together-
Laura Gerald [00:34:57] Sunday suppers.
Ramona Gavin [00:34:59] Yes, we have Sunday supper, we alternate who’s cooking Sunday supper, and then we’ll try it. We actually will try some of the recipes from the different cookbooks. I think the interesting cookbooks is kind of like the interest in it all titles. It is an expansion.
I mean, we are from the South, we understand a certain way of making Southern cuisine. We’re foodies. I love to eat. So if you love to eat, you need to learn more about what is involved in the cooking of food and the preparation of food.
So, you know, we kind of approach cooking in that same way that we approach learned about anything is what can I introduce to my palate, what can I introduce to my way of cooking, that’s a little different? So, yes, Anne, I mean, you need to see our shelves and… I don’t know.
Anne Bogel [00:35:54] Mona, you cued me up because I have two books to recommend that are so perfect for you. You very well may already have them on yourselves. Have you read anything by Michael Twitty?
Ramona Gavin [00:36:04] Ooh, no.
Laura Gerald [00:36:04] Never even heard of him.
Anne Bogel [00:36:06] Oh, I’m happy to make the introduction. So he has two books. One is five-ish years old, maybe a little more. It’s called The Cooking Gene. His newer one that came out last fall is called a Koshersoul.
So listen to this custom mix for you. He is a renowned culinary historian. He also talks about being Black, gay, Jewish, and an intellectual and how that mix is crucial to his work.
So in The Cooking Gene, he traces his family roots, both Black and white, from Africa to America, and then the history of Southern cuisine in a memoir with a lot of stories in history, both recent and long ago, and folk songs and recipes.
Laura Gerald [00:36:49] Oh my gosh!
Anne Bogel [00:36:49] And he’s specifically exploring the influence that African enslavement had on the traditions and cuisine of the American South.
Ramona Gavin [00:36:58] Wow.
Anne Bogel [00:36:58] And I think this might be perfect for you.
Laura Gerald [00:36:59] Yes!
Ramona Gavin [00:37:00] That sounds perfect. Michael Twitty. Look at that.
Laura Gerald [00:37:04] We’re taking notes.
Ramona Gavin [00:37:06] Yes.
Laura Gerald [00:37:06] We’re taking notes.
Ramona Gavin [00:37:07] The Cooking Gene. That sounds amazing.
Anne Bogel [00:37:10] His new one, Koshersoul, is more explicitly focused on the intersection of Jewish and African diaspora cuisine. It’s about the history and the culture and what they tell us about memory and making meaning and identity and… with recipes, of course.
Laura Gerald [00:37:26] Of oh, oh, oh.
Anne Bogel [00:37:29] And he talks about identity cooking like as an approach. And he says, it’s not about fusion, it’s about how we construct complex identities for ourselves. And we express them through our food, through how we eat.
Ramona Gavin [00:37:42] Oh, my gosh.
Laura Gerald [00:37:43] Wow.
Ramona Gavin [00:37:43] I’m going to go look for it today.
Anne Bogel [00:37:45] I’m happy to hear it.
Ramona Gavin [00:37:47] That is awesome.
Anne Bogel [00:37:48] Okay, along those lines, do you know We Are Each Other’s Harvest by Natalie Baszile?
Ramona Gavin [00:37:54] No.
Laura Gerald [00:37:53] Never heard of it.
Anne Bogel [00:37:56] This came out a couple of years ago. You might know her book Queen Sugar that came out about ten years ago.
Ramona Gavin [00:38:01] Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Anne Bogel [00:38:02] Okay. Yeah, Because I think it was an Oprah pick. It’s about a widow who’s left an 800-acre sugarcane field in Louisiana with strict instructions that she has to restore it or donate it to charity. And that book did really well. It sold a ton of copies.
So ten years later, Baszile is kind of revisiting the same theme. But instead of writing a novel this time, this is like a kaleidoscopic portrait of Black farming and agriculture and related things like winemaking, which I guess is still agriculture. But I live in Kentucky and we don’t really make wine.
Ramona Gavin [00:38:34] Wine, yes.
Laura Gerald [00:38:35] Another love. Another love.
Anne Bogel [00:38:37] So the heart of this book is profiles of Black and brown farmers throughout the American South. Although we do pop over to California and a few other places. But the scope is wide and deep.
And what she’s doing is highlighting historical contributions of Black thinkers to agriculture, the Renaissance today of Black farming, the resilience of the Black community to preserve their connection to the land. And she talks about the systemic reasons why that is hard, to say the least.
And she talks about issues such as food justice, the ramifications of slavery, sharecropping. And I think I use the word kaleidoscope. She has just tons of essays, poems, photographs, interviews from authors that you know and may love, like Michael Twitty actually, Joy Harjo, Elizabeth Alexander, Margaret Wilkerson, Sexton, Ross Gay. So, story, history, memoir, poetry, social justice, agriculture. I think there’s a lot here for you.
Ramona Gavin [00:39:31] You have to hear this. We are descended from farmers and landowners on both our mother’s and father’s side. And our grandfather, actually, the story is told that he got an award at Tuskegee for revolutionizing how to grow more corn. So this relates directly to our background and even as-
Laura Gerald [00:39:56] Oh my gosh!
Ramona Gavin [00:39:57] And even as we speak, we’re involved with our family right now to make sure we hang on to our land in rural North Carolina. So this is so alive.
Laura Gerald [00:40:08] I had chills. I had chills.
Ramona Gavin [00:40:09] Oh, my gosh.
Anne Bogel [00:40:10] Me, too. That’s an incredible connection.
Ramona Gavin [00:40:13] Oh, my gosh.
Laura Gerald [00:40:15] Oh, my gosh. Amazing.
Ramona Gavin [00:40:15] And you then the fact that you found two authors that we know nothing about-
Laura Gerald [00:40:19] Amazing.
Ramona Gavin [00:40:19] That is awesome.
Anne Bogel [00:40:20] Well, I’m happy to hear it. Okay, can I share a Kentuckian with you?
Laura Gerald [00:40:23] Yes.
Ramona Gavin [00:40:23]Yes.
Anne Bogel [00:40:24] Because I have another compendium that I think you’re going to really like. And it’s by the Kentucky poet Crystal Wilkinson, who I’ve seen more and more nationally, and it makes me so happy.
She’s a Kentucky poet and author. I invite you to take a look at her first novel. It’s called Birds of Opulence because it’s a short. It’s a real short. Like less than 200 pages. But it’s a story of a small town, southern family, and the matriarch, her name is Minnie Mae Goode, and she rules the roost there for generations in her household. You do what she tells you. She is a pillar of the community and the church. But it’s complicated. We’ll just say it’s complicated.
[00:41:04] So lots of secrets in this town, lots of hard things. Crystal Wilkinson wanted to write a story where mental illness featured prominently, and it does in this book. There’s, I think, I already said secrets, but it’s worth saying twice. There’s some embarrassment over the mental illness and also illegitimacy of birth. And it’s a compact, rich story that I think you may enjoy.
But the one that I really want to recommend to you, it’s going to feel very much like We Are Each Other’s Harvest. And I know you like variety in your reading life. So I want to flag that. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I think you’ll want to find your way to this eventually.
It’s called Perfect Black, and it’s her most recent collection. It combines poetry and prose, and she just covers so much ground. There are essays, there are stories, there are poems, there are short pieces. There are long ones. This is still a real compact little book. But she’s talking about joy and heartbreak and love and trauma and heritage and family.
She talks about print songs. And there is so much food in this book. She talks about the significance of food at her table now, at her mama’s table, going back through the generations, the recipes that have gotten passed down.
It’s also beautifully illustrated. Her longtime partner is an illustrator. It’s a Black and white book. It’s so striking and gorgeous. It might be a little harder to track down because it’s published by a university press, but you can do it.
Laura Gerald [00:42:30] We’ve got a list to send to Bookmarks.
Anne Bogel [00:42:33] They’ll find it for you.
Ramona Gavin [00:42:34] Yes, there you. There you go!
Laura Gerald [00:42:38] They have to. I’m calling Jamie.
Anne Bogel [00:42:44] Actually, Crystal Wilkinson, my Kentucky author, she makes me think of North Carolina’s Randall Kenan. Is he an author you know?
Laura Gerald [00:42:52] Randall Kenan?
Ramona Gavin [00:42:53] I don’t know that name.
Anne Bogel [00:42:54] Oh, you are going to want to meet Randall Kenan. He’s a Black author. He was born in Brooklyn, but he was raised in coastal North Carolina. And I have to tell you, I don’t know where Duplin County is.
Laura Gerald [00:43:05] I know exactly where it is.
Anne Bogel [00:43:07] Uh huh. I thought you might. His stories are set in contemporary North Carolina in Duplin County, and his fictional town is called Timbs Creek but its model that he’s writing about, is very, very real, and you’re going to know what it is.
But his most recent collection that was published in 2020, just shortly before he died, is called If I Had Two Wings. It is short stories where he incorporates the magical and the outlandish and the haunted, all while writing about the issues of often poor, rural, contemporary North Carolina.
Laura Gerald [00:43:41] So like magical realism. We’re just discovering that genre.
Ramona Gavin [00:43:46] Yes. Yes.
Laura Gerald [00:43:48] That is fantastic. And frankly, Duplin County is really close to where we grew up.
Ramona Gavin [00:43:52] Oh, yes, very close.
Laura Gerald [00:43:53] Wow. That is fantastic.
Ramona Gavin [00:43:57] Anne, this is amazing. This is amazing.
Anne Bogel [00:43:59] I’m so happy to hear it. Do you want one more?
Ramona Gavin [00:44:02] Yes.
Laura Gerald [00:44:03] Yes. Yes.
Anne Bogel [00:44:04] Ramona, did you read How the Word Is Passed?
Ramona Gavin [00:44:06] Yeah, I read that for our book club [Plant?] Smith. I saw him speak about it though, and it made me go out and buy it. He was amazing.
Anne Bogel [00:44:14] I feel like I’ve talked about that book. I mean, that’s one of the books I can’t shut up about. I think it’s so brilliant and good and unique as well. But the one I want to recommend to you is his poetry collection because he is a poet.
He has a new one out this spring. It’s called Above Ground. In How the Word Is Passed, he is writing about the legacy of slavery in the United States. This time he’s writing about family and fatherhood. And you can read these poems and appreciate them without having read How the Word Is Passed.
But if you’ve read that book, it is just fascinating for the reader to see the experiences and interests and knowledge of the man who wrote that book writing about family and fatherhood, because some of the same themes and stories come up but in a totally different way.
So he talks about raising a Black boy and how the woman gushing over his adorable tiny Black son in the grocery store is going to see that son very differently in 15 years or 10.
Ramona Gavin [00:45:07] Oh.
Anne Bogel [00:45:08] And he writes about gun violence, but also about all the detritus at the bottom of a double stroller or the sand on his baby’s feet or Zoom school. And it’s compact. I think you’ll find it really satisfying.
Ramona Gavin [00:45:21] Oh, my gosh.
Anne Bogel [00:45:22] You’re going to see it at Bookmarks, you’re going to see at the library because it’s new this spring.
Laura Gerald [00:45:25] Oh.
Ramona Gavin [00:45:25] Oh, gosh.
Anne Bogel [00:45:26] I think you might enjoy it.
Ramona Gavin [00:45:27] Oh, gosh. Which I have a son also. I mean, I… Wow. Wow. Anne, it’s like you’re just seeing into our souls.
Laura Gerald [00:45:37] We’re salivating. I’ve taken two pages of notes already.
Anne Bogel [00:45:41] Well, you were kind enough to tell me what you might enjoy reading and what you’ve loved in the past. And as Laura said, bring the books.
Laura Gerald [00:45:50] Bring the books! This is fantastic.
Ramona Gavin [00:45:53] Yeah. Yeah.
Laura Gerald [00:45:54] We’re so excited. We’re so excited.
Anne Bogel [00:45:57] I’m excited you’re excited.
Ramona Gavin [00:45:58] [inaudible] what I’m reading and go find some of these and start reading them.
Laura Gerald [00:46:03] Oh, yeah. And when we see you next time at Bookmarks, we’re going to tell you what we thought about these books.
Ramona Gavin [00:46:06] Oh, yes. We definitely will.
Anne Bogel [00:46:09] Well, I hope to find out before then.
Ramona Gavin [00:46:11] Great.
Laura Gerald [00:46:12] Even better.
Ramona Gavin [00:46:13] We would love that.
Laura Gerald [00:46:14] Well, that would be wonderful.
Anne Bogel [00:46:16] Please do. I’d love to hear.
Laura Gerald [00:46:18] Listen, you’re such a treasure and a resource. I just am thrilled that you’ve had us on this show. I hope you can find something at all that’s [inaudible 00:46:26]. This has been so enjoyable for us and just a real honor. I mean, we’ve gotten to do wonderful things in our lives, but this is a pinnacle. I am just full.
Ramona Gavin [00:46:43] I completely agree. Again, it’s back to that whole… the book community. And we certainly consider you to be right at the heart of that community and the work that you’re doing. I mean, kudos to you for opening up this world to so many different people and the resources, the wealth of resources and information that you have, your willingness and openness to just share that with others.
I mean, I can hear the joy in your voice as you are sharing this with us because you know the joy you’re bringing us. That’s impressive. Thank you. Thank you for that.
Anne Bogel [00:47:21] Well, you all are so kind and that is so generous. Thank you. But let me tell you, the pleasure’s mine and I enjoyed every minute. So thank you for coming and sharing about your history and your stories and books and reading and recommendations with us. I’m so grateful. Let’s do it again sometime. Thanks for coming on any time.
Laura Gerald [00:47:38] Any time. Anne, see you in North Carolina. Always welcome here.
Anne Bogel [00:47:46] Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Laura and Ramona, and I’d love to hear what you think they should read next. Find the full list of titles we talked about at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com.
Keep up with our weekly show and other happenings in our corner of the internet by following us on Instagram @Whatshouldireadnext. Follow me there. I’m @Annebogel.
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Thanks to the people who make this show happen. What Should I Read Next? is created each week by Will Bogel, Holly Wielkoszewski, and Studio D Podcast Production. Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening. And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Ah! how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.