126: Plugging into Bookish Communities Online with @readwithtoni from Instagram
In this week's episode of Unabridged, Ashley, Jen, and Sara talk with Toni about the power of developing an online bookish community. Toni--who posts @readwithtoni--shares her own bookstagram journey, what she loves about buddy reads, and the books (like Homegoing and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things) that have resulted in some great conversations. We also each share some great, bookstagram-made-me-do-it reads.
Bookish Check In
Ashley - Lyssa Kay Adams’s The Bromance Book Club
Sara - Dionne Searcey’s In Pursuit of Disobedient Women: A Memoir of Love, Rebellion, and Family, Far Away
Toni - Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's The Mountains Sing
Mentioned in Episode
John Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies
Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing
Min Jin Lee's Pachinko
Fatima Farheen Mirza's A Place for Us
Bryn Greenwood's All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
Bryn Greenwood's The Reckless Oath We Made
@marianne.reads on Instagram
Give Me One - Book You've Found Because of Instagram
Sara - Lisa Lutz’s The Swallows
Toni - Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing
Jen - Mikel Jollett’s Hollywood Park
(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)
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Hey! Welcome to Unabridged. This is Jen. We're here for Episode 126, about bookish communities, and we are so happy to have Toni of @readwithtoni with us today. Before we get started, we just want to remind you that we are still putting out our weekly newsletter filled with all kinds of good things to help you get through this quarantine time. So if you're interested in signing up, you can go to our website unabridgedpod.com, where we have it linked, or our profile on Instagram--you can find us there @unabridgedpod. So to start off our episode, we're going to do what we do every time and share our bookish check in. Ashley, do you want to share what you're reading right now?
Bookish Check In
Sure. So this is a great example of an Instagram made me do it book. And I've seen this one all over the place. And I saw it on Anne Bogel's daily deals just recently as a Kindle deal. And, you know, we're all struggling to get access to books right now. So I felt justified in doing the Kindle sale. So anyway, it's Lyssa Kay Adams's The Bromance Book Club. And as people who've been listening know, I am not a big romance reader typically. But right now I'm finding that I really I started enjoying them in the winter, and then as we've entered this time that's been really tumultuous, I've found that I've enjoyed them a lot more than I thought I would, and I'm loving it. I have made more progress on that. I have all the many books that, again, if you're following my saga, you know, I've picked up like 10 books right now that I'm reading, and it's making it to the top of this deck quite often, so I'm really enjoying it. So yeah. That's great.
All right, Sara, how about you?
So I just finished a book. So I am getting ready to start a new book. And the book I'm going to start is In Pursuit of Disobedient Women: A Memoir of Love, Rebellion, and Family Far Away by Deon Searcy. And this is a story about her she Dionne Searcy. She was covering economy for the New York Times, and she made the decision to apply for a job in West Africa and move herself and her husband and her three children to West Africa, where she became the sole breadwinner and her husband stayed home and did all the duties for the children. And it's just about that time in West Africa. So I'm really excited to read it. I haven't started it yet. I'm just like, right between books. So that is what is on my slate.
That sounds really good.
Yeah, that's true. I should have said about mine. I didn't give it a little bit of context that this one that the premise is just that it's a couple that is going, they're breaking up, basically. So that's the premise is that he is trying to save their marriage. She's ready for a divorce. And they have two small twin daughters. And so that's the premise. And then that gets into the whole book club phenomenon. So it's really interesting. I love that. That sounds cool. Sara, that sounds really interesting. And we were talking before we got on mic about The Poisonwood Bible. And there are some similarities as far as some of . . .
They might pair with each other well, just as far as the taking the family and transitioning to Africa.
Awesome. Toni, what are you reading?
A bookstagram made me do it, which is The Mountains Sing, and when we were chatting about how to pronounce the author's last name, and we're not exactly sure. So if you've heard of The Mountains Sing, I recommend picking it up. It's a multi generational saga that follows the Chin family. And it's extraordinary. It follows one timeline is the grandmother, and she's telling her granddaughter stories. So you jump back between the 30s, which makes it . . . . I'm up to like 50s right now. And then the daughter or granddaughter is the 70s. So you have World War Two, and then Vietnam War. It's insane. It's so good.
All right. And I am reading . . . so I have dived in--I'm juggling at the moment--so my brain's kind of all over the place. But I decided to read Locke and Key, which is the graphic novel series that the show I just watched--and I've talked about that on the podcast--is based on. It is by Joe Hill, and the illustrator is Gabriel Rodriguez. And it's great. I am glad . . . I wish I'd read it first, but I'm glad that I'm going back and reading it. I wasn't sure if it would be too much the same as the television series. But there are a lot of differences. The graphic novels are actually darker. And there are some interesting plot twists that were not in the television series. So I'm glad I'm reading it. I'm enjoying it. That's on Kindle Unlimited. So that's been cool to, that I'm getting it for free, because I love graphic novels, but man, they are expensive. So it's been a great treat.
Main Discussion - Bookish Communities
All right, well, we are going to move on, then, and talk about bookish communities. And I just want to share the reason we invited Toni here is because she has been a big part of my own bookstagram bookish community journey. I was, you know, I joined Instagram for the podcast, and it was fine, but I wasn't really making connections. And then I happened upon one of Toni's buddy reads, and it was just like this revelation. And so now I've come to make all these friends on bookstagram. It's just been really great. So we wanted to have Toni on to talk a little bit about what got her started as well.
That makes me so happy.
Yeah, I've really enjoyed it. I think I've only missed a couple of buddy reads since I started, but yeah, just because I'd already read the book and was a little overextended. It was when we were at Podfest, and I wasn't sure I was gonna be able to make it happen. And we were planning other trips that got canceled. Yeah. For the reason everything is canceled right now but . . . so, Toni, do you just want to share a little bit about your personal history and then how you got started on Instagram?
Sure, former teacher. I went to school for high school English, and then I wanted to teach middle level, so I got a second part of my master's to do middle grades. So I student taught in high school, then I went back for middle school, and then I student taught in middle school, and then I long term subbed for one year and just couldn't find a job after that. So I switched to become a freelance copy editor for my husband's company. So I got to work from home. And that was pre kids, and then I had kids and that was wonderful. But that's also been short lived because baby number two was a lot more difficult. So I've just . . . I've stepped back for a little bit. I do . . . a friend wrote a book, so I just helped her edit some of it. So I'm using my skills. I just, I'm not doing the freelance anymore, at the moment. And then I . . . so my youngest was around one. And I needed more of a connection. I needed something. I missed books like I missed going to school, I missed being a teacher, so I missed my books, and I . . . somebody had bought me a subscription to like a book subscription, and I saw a hashtag for bookstagram, and I said, "What is that?" and I watched from my personal account for a little while, and I'm just jumping in. So June of 2018, I started it and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I love it. I I could not imagine not having the friendships that I that I've made. And I talk to these people every single day, and it's just, it's amazing.
That's so great. Your story reminds me a little bit of why we started the podcast, which was we were all English teachers. We all were on the same instructional technology team, which is great, because it's still in education, but we missed the books. And so that's how we started the podcast. So yes, there's something in that, just that hunger to continue being able to talk about books and reading.
Yeah, in the connection because you can read books on your own, which is absolutely fine. But I just find that this brings a whole social aspect to it and a connection part to it. And the friendships that come from opening up about the stories is really remarkable.
Mm hmm. Yeah. So what do you think are the strengths of the bookish community you've developed on Instagram? Do you . . . are they the same as the conversations or the communities that you have in real life around books?
Sort of. I have a book club that we've been together for 11 years. So and I love them. It's more that's more of like a friendship. And we chat about books. Because we've had weddings together, we've had babies together. So books is a backdrop, I think, to our book clubs, it's . . . Reading between the Wines is our name.
I love that.
And we typically read similar styles of books, which is fine, I love the books that we read. But I also like . . . I like to read heavy books, complex books, dark books. And so what this community does is gives me more of an outlet to read more of the books that I love to read. And at any given time, there's somebody, "Oh, I want to read that book!" So that's what's it's kind of just a balance.
That's something that I've really appreciated about bookstagram as well as the way that it pushes me to read different genres and gives me an access point for that. Because I think that it's easy to--when you're not exposed to a wider range of books--it's easy to get in a rut with that, and it is really nice. Like I said, with the romances, for example, that's something that I did not ever read before.
I never did either until bookstagram.
Yeah. But I think because because of the people on there, you're seeing the ones that are really popular and not that that means every time that they're great reads, but it does give you a sense of like, oh, I've seen this cover several times, like when I look at Anne Bogel's sales stuff. I choose ones that I have seen the cover of and I've heard great things about and so like The Bromance Book Club is an example where I wouldn't have picked that one up, except that I'd seen the cover a bunch. I did know that Jen had read it and liked it. But even if she hadn't, I'd seen enough people saying, "I love this book," where I felt like, you know, both that I was familiar with it and also that I wanted to give it a try. And so I agree that that really has been nice. It gives me a place to talk about the kinds of books that I love that I might not do as much in person, but also it gives me exposure, I think, to a lot of different genres.
Yeah, I agree.
Same for me, I think I think what bookstagram has done for my reading is it has brought so much variety to my reading because a lot of the people that I like have a book club with it, like in real life, they are very much like me, they're my same age. They're my same race. They're my same socioeconomic status. I mean, they're very all we're all very similar. So I feel like what bookstagram has done is it has just opened up this variety of really complex reads and has allowed me to connect with people who I don't get to connect with in my community because I live in such a rural area and so it has been awesome for my reading life.
So, Toni, did you participate in buddy reads before you decided to lead them?
Only a couple. So if I joined in June, I think I had started to see them talked about and I was . . . it piqued my interest. And then, I think, August I joined one. I think I may have joined another in September. And I thought I could do this. There's so many books I want to read. So my very first one was The Heart's Invisible Furies. And that was my first one, and I'm like, wow, more than like, one or two people want to read this with me?
We all love that book.
Oh my gosh, when I finished, I just wanted to hug it.
Sara is like a personal ambassador for that book. So we have all read it. And I think a lot of other people that she knows have read it because she is a personal ambassador.
It was such a great group! Oh, it, it brought out a lot of emotions and people were opening up about things. I'm like, oh, this is wonderful. So it's like, well, maybe I'll try it again. With no kind of end date or goal in mind. I just let's just do it again. And, and now we're 18, 19 in.
When I first started bookstagram, I remember seeing this thing? I mean, because I had no idea what was happening. I was like, oh, people are in this community and they talk about books, and I posted a book picture. And then I was, you know, watching other people, you know, post and stuff. And I saw the buddy reads, and I was like, What is the buddy read? I mean, I understood the words, but like, I didn't understand, how do you do a buddy read when you're on a social media platform?
And you know, I eventually kept looking and looking. I was like, Oh, okay. At first I was like, I don't know what you're talking about.
I know when you go to talk, I'm like, do you call on the phone?
I have to say I'm so bad at social media. So Sara was on before I was for a long time and so yeah, she has answered a lot of really stupid IG questions.
There's no stupid question.
What is the paper airplane thing? What how do I get there like I remember I was trying to check before you could check it on your computer. And I was like, I cannot find . . . Why do I see it on my phone and not . . . and she was like, Jen, you can't do everything on the computer. Which now you can. I'm very thrilled.
And it's not intuitive. I mean, like Instagram is not intuitive.
So once I got to know some people on Instagram, I would message. So I like to write long-form letters, so I have a pen pal who's also on bookstagram. And so when I would see her do something, I would DM her and say, How did you do that?
Yeah, I get a lot of those.
Yeah, that's the only way to learn. And each, each social media platform is so different. So I was much more familiar with Twitter. And then when I got on Instagram, I was like, how do you reshare this thing like, I still struggle with that, but I was just like, why can I not put in the link. Why can I not share this awesome post? Like I just don't understand that. It has been a sharp learning curve for sure for me, and same. I've, you know, I think it's things like the buddy reads and now Jen and Sara and I do a couple of groups where we're in groups and we try to kind of help each other as a community, and that . . . it's those things that have made me enjoy it a lot more, but prior to that, I did love seeing all the book covers, like that part I enjoyed.
It all felt pretty distant. So I think I can see how you started with the buddy reads, and I know for us it's those things that have started to make it feel a lot more meaningful.
That, like, real connection.
So what are some of the favorite books that you've done for buddy reads?
Oh my goodness, um.
I know there's a bunch, but . . .
There's a bunch: Homegoing, Pachinko, A Place for Us, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.
Oh, yeah. I read that right before my first one with you.
That was a group . . . that was a good group.
I love that book, but I did it, I did it in the, like, I was afraid to recommend it because I think . . .
It's not one I recommend. So it's not one I throw out there a lot because some people are like,
But I loved it. It made for an amazing discussion.
I was reluctant to recommend it because I had already read it. So I knew what happened. And I was desperate to talk about it, but then afraid to recommend it. But then, you know, these days, I mean, I . . . now that I sucked Jen and Sara into reading it. And they both were really intrigued. And so I think that made me feel more comfortable about recommending it to people and saying, this is a really provocative book, but I think it has stayed with me as a book that . . .
It changed the way I thought about something and really made me question my preconceived judgments about people's situations, and I think . . .
. . . that's really powerful. I mean, I just think how many books have made me really shake something, like it really shook a fundamental, foundational belief that I felt. I mean, it's almost an instinctive belief that I think I know what's right. And I think I know what's wrong and it just really shook things up for me, and I mean, that has stayed with me for sure.
Yeah, yeah, that's what made it such an amazing buddy read because we kind of were all feeling the feelings at the same time. Everyone was sticking to the schedule. So it was like all the emotions at the same time and being able to discuss them with everybody. It was it made for a really great, great buddy read.
And that's the thing. I mean, I just feel like there were times--and we did another of her books more recently and same experience of . . . there were times where I wanted to throw the book where I actually felt sick to my stomach and I thought . . .
Oh, in the newest one? I gave it 10 pages. I'm like, I don't want to read this right now. It didn't grab me, but so many people have enjoyed it so much. I need to give it another shot.
I mean, I will . . . I don't know what y'all felt. I felt like, it didn't shake things up for me as much as the other book. But I love the characters, and I love the story. But Sara could share. She did not . . .
I was kind of the same way. I mean, I thought it was fine, but it definitely what . . . Jen and Ashley both liked it way more than I did so . . . but I mean, that's the beauty of the books, you know?
And I feel like the thing that was similar. It's just that ability. I think she does a really great job of just moving people from total . . . I mean, there was a point where I thought, I'm never going to recover with this main character, I'm never going to recover. And then somehow I did. And I think that's really miraculous that these characters do these horrendous things. And I think she does that in both of those books. I'm interested to read her others as well. But just to be able to take characters so far, and show human nature and then have them have some redeemable traits, I think is really, you know, right, amazing. But again, like you said, Toni, those are fun things to discuss, because it's the kind of thing that as you're experiencing it, you're desperate to talk to someone about it.
So Ashley had read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. So that was back before we had the idea of a podcast, we were going to do a blog, where we read books together and like wrote about, at each point kind of had a conversation about it. And I just remember, we were very early, and I said, it makes me think this is gonna happen, but I know that there's no way that is going to happen. And then of course, that was the relationship that developed, and I was like, and Ashley was just watching me the whole time. Like just like, friend, you have no idea what's coming. Yeah, it was. Yeah, it's I mean, it just pushes you think you have a firm line, and then it just pushes that line and makes you question why you thought that line was there to begin with? And then why do I not think that line's there anymore? Like, that's also disturbing. Sorry.
And I think what really resonate? I know it's like we don't we don't have to keep harping on this book.
We're having a book club!
I read it years ago, and, still, it is so vivid to me, number one, and number two, it just really like you said, Jen, where's the line, but it also, the thing that really stood with me is, who am I to judge? That is the thing that I thought was so powerful, and I think I have read other books that have that, but it it doesn't. That's the impact that resonated with me it was that that awareness that I am always going to be on the outside of someone else's situation. And I do not know the ins and outs of it. And so just being mindful of that, I think is really was really a helpful thing to learn.
Yeah, I think when you it's almost like a headline, you read a headline, and you can have a snap judgment, but you don't know the people behind it, you don't know if they've gotten the story correctly, you hear the emotions and the backstory behind this person and this person, and that changes the entire thing. So it's just thinking past the headline almost.
Yeah, that's great. Yeah. So you've talked a little bit on IG about your process. What is your process for buddy reads? Like how do you pick them? How do you prepare for the conversation?
Very complex process. I love it. Um, so for a couple weeks in which like, I'll announce it, and then almost from right away, I start thinking about the next month, so for bits and pieces here I'll . . . something will pop in my head and all right, maybe this book and then I'll get it narrowed down to like three or four. And I'll look at the plot again. And I'll try to think, will this, you know, promote a good discussion. I try to make sure they're, they're different. Different cultures, different--not necessarily different genre, but definitely different cultures, different time period, just different in enough of a way. And then I put it up to the vote, so the current month will vote on which they prefer, and then when I post it, then that'll go towards the next month, and it just goes from there.
Do you ever pick a book that you've already read, or are they all new reads for you?
They've all been new reads, I believe. I did one just popped in my head that I haven't re-read in a while that I might sneak on there.
Yeah, so far no re-reads.
Do you do . . . I've seen you say you prep, do you read mostly on Sundays or you get your questions ready on Sundays?
I do my note taking . . . Yeah, I think Sunday is my main day because that's pretty much the only day I can semi guarantee with life and everything that I can dedicate a good chunk of time, sprawl out on the bed, get my notes going, put my tabs in, look things up if if it begs that. So, but yeah, that's usually how I structure my week.
Give Me One . . . Bookstagram Made Me Do It
All right, well, we are going to move on to our closing segment, and this fits right in. This is a book that you have found because of Instagram. So Sara, do you want to go first this time?
Sure. So one of the books that I found and was really encouraged to read because of bookstagram was Lisa Lutz's The Swallows, which is about a mystery at a private school and how it unfolds. And I really, I really thought it was worth the read. So I was really happy to have read it. I will say that I like the first two thirds of that book better than the last one third, but I still thought that it did a great job of building suspense. And I saw a lot of bookstagrammars whose recommendations I really respect and trust, talk about it being a good read. And so I was like, I'm gonna read it. And so I did and I passed it on to a couple. I think I actually passed it on to Jen.
And you read it, and then my mom has it now.
Oh, I'll be interested to see what she thinks. You know, I thought it was great. Ashley, how about you?
So I think in general Book of the Month is something that bookstagram made me do it, and and I really am loving it. So I think just the joy of picking the books. Jen and Sara know that I struggle with like buying things, like it is like a thing I have to like work myself through it, and accumulating stuff. So it's not so much the purchasing as the accumulating, I'm sure with the accumulation problem. We've moved a lot in my life, and I think that's relevant to how it's hard for me to accumulate things, and books are something that both my partner and I really value, and so we are okay with having them but even so, to get one a month is you know, a thing that I had to work through, but I'm really glad I did because I love the experience of choosing them. And I thought as a specific one I really loved, I just joined in December, but I really loved Miranda Popkey's Topics of Conversation. I just thought it was a brilliant book, I've talked about on here before so I won't get too in depth but basically, it's an unnusual style. It's really just an in-depth examination of one woman's experiences over time. And I felt like it was a fascinating read. But it's something that I probably would not have read if I hadn't had Book of the Month. So I think going back to what we talked about with bookstagram just being a great way of having exposure to different genres and reading a lot of different kinds of things, I find myself doing that with Book of the Month as well that I'm choosing things that I might not have chosen otherwise, but because I'm choosing it, and then I get it, I'm really excited to have it. And then I'm much more likely to read it. So that's been a great choice for me.
That's great. Toni, how about you?
A lot of my books I get because that's where I look at books all day, but I tried to think, and I'm gonna go back to last year, it was kind of like the first book that I remembered seeing everywhere on bookstagram, and it was Homegoing. And I kept saying, Oh, I can't wait to read this. I can't wait to read this. And I don't buy a lot of things kind of similarly, we're a one-income household, so and I'm a minimalist, so I don't buy a lot of things. And another positive thing about the book community, a friend noticed that I kept saying I really want to read it. And one day it just showed up at my house @marianne.reads, and she sent it to me, and she's like, you're so wonderful and I wanted you to have it and then it became a buddy read and so it's just another example of why this community so great, but that book was amazing.
I love that book. Oh, man, that would be a great one for a buddy read.
Oh, it was. The structure was amazing, too, because we went chapter by chapter since it was almost like a story within a story. Yeah. So if it fed really well into conversation, into discussion,
That's perfect. Oh, that would be great.
We broke that book down.
I'm having buddy read envy right now.
What about you, Jen?
So mine, I realized it's not even out yet. But that is something that bookstagram has done for me before this. I wasn't getting any books in advance of publication, and now that's a thing that I'm doing, which is cool. So I got I mentioned this on the podcast the other week, Mikel Jollett's--and I now know how to say his last name--Hollywood Park, and I listened to that. I got that from Libro.fm. That book just took me on a journey, and I loved it so much. And it's interesting because the sensational part about it, and kind of the hook is that Mikel is the child of two people who were in a cult, where the kids were separated from their parents. And then his parents left the cult and took him back and were trying to re-find what family is, but that's all in the first--I listened, so I'm thinking of it in minutes--so that's all like in the first couple of minutes, because everything after is just about recovering from the cult and what it did to his parents and how they're able to recover or not. And I did not even know, and I was glad I didn't know, so maybe I shouldn't say this, but he's in a band, and like he's famous on his own. He's in Airborne Toxic Event. And yeah, I had no idea because that is not what the book at all is about. It's about him establishing his identity. And I had seen that one . . . so I got that as an advanced listener copy from Libro.fm, just because I had seen people talking about it on bookstagram. And I was like, oh, well, that was the one cover look familiar. So I chose it. And I'm so glad I did. Because it just blew me away. It is a brilliant memoir. So. Yeah, I could go on and on. Maybe I will. I haven't written my review yet. So that's going to be one of those. This one. Yeah. All right. Well, Toni, thank you so so, so much for joining us today.
You're so welcome.
It's been great.
Thank you, Toni.
Thank you so much. It's really fun to talk about the bookstagram community.
Yes, absolutely. Thank you.
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