This week, we’re celebrating libraries! Not only do librarians help kids (and adults) find the books they need, libraries are a vital “third space” in our communities. They provide resources and information, they promote inclusivity, and they’re a place where we can spend time with one another. Our hosts are joined by Carrie Wardzinski, a librarian and mom in Pennsylvania, who shares why she was drawn to the profession and what we can do to support our local libraries.
After that, Jasmine gets the chance to sit down with amazing best-selling author Jodi Picoult. Many of Jodi’s books are facing bans around the country, so she and Jasmine chat about why book bans are so dangerous and what’s really behind them. Jodi also shares where she gets the ideas for her novels and why she thinks fiction is such a valuable way to tackle big issues like abortion, school shootings, and trans rights.
Finally, Amanda, Rachel and Jasmine raise a glass to powerful stories, family hikes, and new experiences in this episode’s “Toast to Joy.”
Speaking of banned books, next month’s Banned Book Club is all about Jonathan Evison’s book Lawn Boy - one of the most commonly banned books in the country. We’d love for you to join us on June 7th at 7:30pm Eastern for this free virtual event. You can learn more and register to attend here: https://go.redwine.blue/v9n.
For a transcript of this episode, please email email@example.com.
You can learn more about us at www.redwine.blue or follow us on social media!
The Suburban Women Problem - Season 3, Episode 19
Jasmine Clark: Hi everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Jasmine Clark.
Amanda Weinstein: I'm Amanda Weinstein.
Rachel Vindman: I'm Rachel Vindman.
Jasmine: And you're listening to The Suburban Women Problem. This week, I'm really excited to share my interview with bestselling author Jodi Picoult. It was so fun to talk to Jodi, and I'm such a fan of her work. And before that, we'll be joined by Carrie Wardzinski, an activist and librarian in Pennsylvania who's standing up against book bans. But first, can we talk about our 100th episode event last week? How fun was that?
Rachel: It was fun! It was like once we got started, it was far less stressful than I expected.
Jasmine: Yeah, I was, I mean, it just flowed and I love that the listeners got a chance to kind of like see how we just kind of flow.
Rachel: I'm shocked no one's asked us to like host a talk show or something in the past week.
Amanda: We don't fight enough for that. We have to like fight more and be more catty for a talk show.
Jasmine: Oh, that's true. There's no like water throwing or like, you know, cursing.
Rachel: I can be catty, but not with you guys. Why would I be?
Jasmine: Yeah. And I also thought Heather Cox Richardson was amazing. I always love when she brings like her historical perspective to things, but it was, it was just A-one last week. I really, really enjoyed it.
Amanda: Oh yeah. It's very grounding. I also love seeing all the cities people were from where I was like, what? North Dakota? And what? New Mexico? That was just very cool. I never really thought about it until I saw those cities and I was like, whoa. And I was trying not to look at them while we were talking.
Rachel: I know. You know, I was preparing for an interview I'm gonna do tomorrow, and I was looking, actually, weirdly, something came up in my Twitter feed about Moms for Liberty. So I clicked on it and read their like bio, their Twitter bio, and like their numbers, assuming that the numbers are inflated and most numbers would be inflated in a situation like that… they're really not that impressive. I don't know. It's interesting. I think that, like, yes, we have people, you know, listening to us from North Dakota and from everywhere. And I'm not trying to pit us against Moms for Liberty or Red Wine and Blue by any stretch of the imagination–
Amanda: But we'll take them any day.
Rachel: Yeah. I mean, yeah, I wouldn't back down from a fight, I think, you know that. But also, you know, the issue of like, when you do an event like the live event and you can see people from all over, it really is just heartening to see, you know, if you feel alone in your state, you see there other people might feel alone where they are. But speaking of alone, last Tuesday, Florida had a big win.
Jasmine: I know! I'm excited. My mom lives there, so I'm really excited about this one. Yeah.
Rachel: And for those of you who don't know, Donna Deegan won the mayoral race in Jacksonville after 30 years of having Republican mayors. And I, I hear just around here, I heard people talking about it and it was definitely like, it's like a glimmer of hope. Like yes, we still have a lot of work to do, but this is good. It just, it lets you know, like it might be possible, you know. Cause sometimes, especially in Florida, like we get a lot bad news guys.
Jasmine: Just a little bit.
Rachel: What you see is that, again, it's possible. I mean, there is movement here. But it's gonna take a lot of work.
Amanda: It takes a lot of people.
Rachel: Yeah. As Jasmine says, you gotta celebrate the little wins.
Jasmine: Oh yes.
Rachel: This is a little win and a big win. But it shows you nothing is ever impossible. It is not impossible. We say that all the time on the podcast. Everyone gets one vote like they're, they haven't taken that away from us. It's still possible. But we have to use it. And I think people can see when we have good candidates that it's possible.
And I mean, Amanda, there's another race that, that was Tuesday that you know a lot about. Can you tell us about that? This is also very exciting.
Amanda: I know, I was super excited to see Colorado Springs Independent Yemi Mobolade win, who's a Nigerian American. He is also the first black mayor of Colorado Springs. And Colorado Springs is historically quite conservative. So I grew up there, lived there for a while. It is, you know, Focus on the Family's headquarters. It is an evangelical, basically, Mecca. It really is. So to see that, and you saw a lot of Republicans come out and endorse him, so this was actually like a pretty big shift that you see in Colorado Springs happening away from the Republican party.
Rachel: Who was the opponent?
Amanda: So I think the opponent was basically like the standard Republican. There were a number of Republicans running against him, you know, typical Republican party.
Jasmine: Well, that's really exciting and I think that, as you said, Rachel, I think we do celebrate the small victories and for some, a mayoral race is a small victory, but I think anytime we beat the well-funded disinformation, anti reading, anti books, anti-everything faction that is just really going hard, I think that's more than a small victory. I would actually say it's a pretty big victory.
Rachel: Mm-hmm. I actually, I, I do think it's a really big victory, so I don't wanna characterize it as small, but I think just if you're not from Florida, or even if you're from Florida but not from Jacksonville, a glimmer of hope of like, “this is possible if we work hard.” And they worked really hard, right? To say “this is who the candidate is” and really talk about her and, and it also is the importance of having a good electable candidate.
Amanda: That's true. Yeah.
Jasmine: And I think it also shows that right now we are in a position where people are not liking the Moms for Liberty crowd. It seems like they're the loudest in the room, but they clearly are not representing the voices of the people because all across the country, we are seeing them fail. At every turn. They squeak a couple of candidates through here and there, but for the most part, people are not subscribing to what they're selling. And in fact, they are outright rejecting it and instead electing people who more align with their values and more align with what they want in their schools. People do not align with book bans. They do not align with calling teachers and librarians, groomers and pedophiles. They reject this and instead they say, “no, we want access to books. We want our teachers and librarians to be respected and treated like human beings.” And so I think, I think we're seeing that now.
We talked about inflection points a little bit in the 100th episode and I think we're seeing a glimmer of hope in that people are kind of just rejecting this stuff and I just hope we keep it going into 2024. That's my, that's my hope is that we outright reject across the country all of this extremism.
Amanda: And we have to see pushback from legislation, but we also need to see pushback from people, and we also need to see pushback in the courts. So I love that PEN America, and I think it's Penguin Random, are filing a lawsuit against all of the books that they've been banning in Florida. Because this is not what most parents want and it follows like a lot of media that we've seen about CRT and DEI and trans stuff and a lot of misinformation. And it's just not right to be banning books. We want our kids reading and we want our kids reading what they want to read in schools, and we want them to have access to the books that they have in libraries.
So we also have, I don't know if you guys have seen it, but nationally there's been some more articles about reading in general and how we teach reading. So our local newspaper came and visited my daughter's classroom to see how they teach reading and so I was kind of disappointed with the article because the article then questions, like, “are teachers teaching our kids to hate reading?”
Jasmine: Oh my God.
Amanda: And it just immediately pitted teachers against parents, which is not my experience. My experience is that my teachers have always worked with me, not against me, to help me and my child, you know, be the best that they can be. I think most parents I see are working with teachers, but I continually see the media and politicians try to pit teachers and parents against each other.
And to be clear, when we're talking about these reading issues, so if you've heard it, you know, people are talking about, you know, a lot of Lucy Calkins stuff versus the science of reading, as if these are the only two curriculums, there's a lot of curriculums out there. And a lot of it focuses not entirely, but on how much our kids should be learning phonics to read. And our school went to a program that did not have phonics in it. And a lot of our kids struggled with that. And this was, my older daughter struggled with that. But I also have a kindergartner where her teacher now has incorporated more phonics in it than my older child had. And I see the improvements it's made in her.
But that perspective, nobody asked me. Right? Nobody asked me, as a parent of a kindergartener, have you seen some improvement when we changed curriculum? They just heard the complaint, right, from a mom of a third grader, you know, which were probably legitimate complaints - you're talking about learning to read in the middle of Covid, right? We're not really talking to those parents. How are we dealing with that? But we need to be thinking about how we create ways for parents and teachers to work together in a flexible way to help our kids read. And everything else they need to do.
Rachel: No, I, I completely agree. I think this debate and, and we were texting a lot about it Saturday morning, all of us, because I'm familiar with the whole science of reading. That's what these programs are called, Science of Reading. And it's basically also proprietary information. I think that's an important thing to put in there.
Amanda: Yeah. It's an expensive curriculum.
Rachel: And so Jasmine, if you could, I'll let you explain Jasmine, what Georgia did, cause I think this is fascinating for a variety of reasons.
Jasmine: Yeah, so in Georgia we actually passed legislation that would train teachers, from kindergarten to third grade teachers, on the science of reading and make all these rules around this particular way of teaching reading. And interestingly, when it was, you know, when it came out, like there wasn't a lot of talk about like, “well, what are the alternatives to this? Why are we choosing this one?”
And I think what really was an interesting part of our conversation on Saturday, and something I didn't really think about in the moment, but I'm thinking about it more now, was, should the state be mandating certain types of curriculum, especially proprietary curriculum, for an entire state? Instead of letting school systems kind of do what they feel is best for their school system or even maybe individual schools. And so I, I thought that was interesting cause in Georgia we did pass a bill and it was signed by the governor that will require that we use this new science of reading across the state.
Rachel: But again, the problem is like, training people is expensive and even incorporating some of the ideas and the theories, if you haven't trained teachers, then they can't use it. And I can especially understand in small school districts, it's just a, a, a cost issue, right? We all know the public education is underfunded.
Rachel: So that it has to come from, the legislature is really part of a bigger issue.
Amanda: So there's a lot of parents who've been asking for quite a long time for programs like science reading that have more phonics in it.
Rachel: Yeah. No that’s true.
Amanda: And also teachers have been advocating for it. So I think you kind of touched on a bigger issue: are we really listening to both teachers and parents for what they want to see in schools? And then a bigger issue is if we start listening to the loudest voices, right, so if we start mandating curriculum for reading, do we then also mandate other curriculum? So now Ohio's not only talking about mandating curriculum for reading, they're also talking about mandating curriculum for our history. And social studies. Civics. And if the loudest voices prevail, there are some serious issues when we start mandating, at the state level, curriculum in schools. And there is just, so much complexity here and issues to discuss, right? I want what's best for my kids, and I wanna do it working with my teacher because they're the expert.
Jasmine: Absolutely. So, speaking of experts and speaking of reading, who better to talk to than a librarian?
Jasmine: So let's bring in our troublemaker of the day! Carrie Wardzinski is a mom, a librarian, and an advocate in Pennsylvania. Hi Carrie, thanks for joining us!
Carrie Wardzinski: No problem. Happy to be here.
Jasmine: So Carrie, I'd love to hear why you decided to become a librarian.
Carrie: I would say… so it's actually less about books specifically for me, but more about information. I was first out of college and I was just working whatever job I could find. So I ended up working in the corporate world and one of the roles that I had was actually going and researching things on microfilm and microfiche. I actually loved it, the information part, and so I decided to enroll in the master's program at University of Pittsburgh for my library of science degree and did that, and then ended up working as a librarian both in academics and then in the corporate world and then finally for a trolley museum actually in their archives.
Amanda: Oh, that's so interesting. Cause I think when a lot of people think libraries, they think books. But I, you know, just hearing from community members, libraries are very much about information, they're often community resources of how to connect people with jobs, with training, with the internet, with… there's so much that libraries in general do, and in that libraries do for our kids that we I love thinking about how this is a place for information and not just books. As much as we do love books.
So you live in Pittsburgh and you stepped up when you heard that one of your favorite local authors was dealing with his books being banned. Could you tell us what happened?
Carrie: So I was on Facebook and an author, his name is Brian Broome, he's up and coming, has won a number of awards in last year or so, once his memoir came out. He also happens to be Black and gay. This is last February, so really over a year ago, people were joking, things were heating up in Florida and other places, and people were saying, “you know, Brian, you better watch out. Your book's gonna get banned because of the subject matter.” Things like that. And so I, I jokingly said on there, “Not if I have anything to do with it!”
And another person who I didn't know at the time stepped in and said, “Hey, can I, can I talk to you privately about this?” I said, “Sure, what's up?” So she ended up sending me a private message on Facebook, and we started chatting and I found out that her school, she was a middle school teacher at the time, was getting ready to ban books. That there were some parents who were kind of putting in the request to get books in the middle school and high school banned and go through the whole process of that. And they were really upset. So we started talking and I started looking into resources that I knew in the library community. And when that happened, I reached out to Every Library, which is a library specific PAC started by three librarians. They said, “Hey, we need representation in Washington and we're gonna lobby people.” And when I reached out to him, he said, “You need to check out Red Wine & Blue.”
Amanda: I love the idea of a group of librarians going to lobby and I feel like you all are just in there going, “Shhh, we’re speaking.”
Jasmine: Yeah, that actually would be a really cool t-shirt. So Carrie, in addition to being a librarian, you're also a mom of a 10 year old. And so, you know, being a parent, has that changed your perspective on libraries or reading at all?
Carrie: Oh my gosh, yes. So, you know, my son's in fourth grade and he struggled to read and I never even considered that that would be an issue. And so, you know, it was a teacher who is a reading specialist who really got him hooked and helped him do that. But then it was also, you know, finding what he loved. And in this case, it happened to be first graphic novels like Dogman and Captain Underpants. So if you have young kids, or even kids who you know are slightly older teenagers, you'll recognize that. But then Percy, the Percy Jackson series.
Jasmine: Oh my gosh. My son too! Wow.
Carrie: And so, for the last year and a half, it has been nothing but Greek mythology and Percy Jackson in our house.
Jasmine: My son too!
Rachel: Yep. It's Laura Olympus at our house, we're, we're very big into Laura and there's like a new book coming out while my daughter's at camp and it's like, “Oh my gosh, what am I gonna do?” I'm like, “I guess wait till you get home?” But that's not a good enough answer. I mean, and this is someone too who also doesn't like to read, but this, this pulled her in and got her hooked and she loves it as well. I love it when they find that thing, don't you?
Carrie: Exactly. And you know, you never know what's going to be their thing or resonate cause it's not the same thing that I would've liked as a kid. And initially I started trying to give him books that I liked and I was even, because I didn't do young adult or even children's librarianship, I'm asking my friends who are children's librarians, like, “What should I do to get him to read?”
But I think it's easy to say when you're not a parent, “No, I don't want my kids to read this or that.” And now it's going, “No, this is important. They need to see themselves.” And full disclosure, part of the reason why my son was pulled in by Percy Jackson is he has ADHD. The very first book starts out with Percy saying he has ADHD and he just resonated with that character. And so it's not an over exaggeration when they say representation matters. Like you need that.
Rachel: Oh, I love that. You know, Carrie, we've, we've talked a lot on the podcast about the crisis of teachers leaving the profession. Is there something similar going on with librarians?
Carrie: There has been. So school librarians have dropped an extreme amount over the last 20 years, and it isn't just explained by retirement or downsizing and things like that. So now there are a lot of districts that don't even have any librarians. And so they're closing the libraries because they don't have somebody qualified in there, or the libraries are sitting empty. Librarian salaries are notoriously low. You know, even as a director, you might start at $35,000 a year. That's not uncommon in Pennsylvania. You need to have a master's degree. Oftentimes you need to have supervisory experience, all this other stuff.
Jasmine: That doesn’t add up.
Amanda: No. Yeah. Women have other options. I'm assuming it's mostly, is it, I'm assuming it's mostly women, right?
Carrie: It is.
Amanda: And women have other options, and the problem is those other options pay better. And so, librarian salaries have not kept up. And what that means is kids don't have that person in the room giving them information. Or kids don't have that person in the room finding the book where they need to see themselves that reflection.
Jasmine: Or they don't have the room at all because the library is closed.
Carrie: Yeah, exactly.
Amanda: So for all of our listeners here, what can we do to help support our local libraries? Where's a good place to start?
Carrie: I would say for your public library, first of all, if you are not a member, do not have a library card, go and get that. Become familiar with the library, and a lot of people don't realize this, but statistics and demonstrable sorts of numbers matter a lot to justify libraries existing. And so if you can, if those books circulate, if the librarian and the library staff can demonstrate that, let's say it's banned books or just, you know, circulation numbers in general, people through the door, that matters a lot. That can help them justify keeping the existing staff, keeping the hours that they have and maybe even hiring a new person, keeping books on the shelves. It'll help justify funding to states and communities and why the property taxes, for example, here in Pennsylvania would need to stay the same so that way they can keep getting however much money they get per year.
Jasmine: Yeah, I would say the libraries here in Gwinnett County in Georgia, they're pretty awesome because they're also tied to the students and that your school number is your library card. Like for any public library as well. So it's actually really awesome. But along with that, our libraries also have incubators. Like they help people start businesses. They have 3D printers, they've got study rooms, they've got, they have all these things. It's so much more interactive than what I think a lot of people think of when they think of the library. The modernization of the libraries around here. It's amazing. And I don't have a 3D printer in my home. I could go to the library and have access to that and also while I'm there, have access to so many other things.
Amanda: And a lot's online, like a lot of services now, like I can rent a book through my library online, I don't even have to go there. Carrie, do you know, does it matter for libraries if I'm doing it online or if I go in person? Like does it help more to go in person?
Carrie: No, no, just using them is great. Just using it. So you know, checking out books, music, videos, whatever, all of the electronic resources. They have ways to count that and they know how to do all of it.
Amanda: Oh, that's awesome.
Rachel: So in Broward County, Florida, some people can just sign up online, but I wasn't able to sign up online, so I had to go into the library to get a card and then I could use the Libby app. The library was really nice. There's something so special about libraries. I just wanna smell the smell and see all the books. Even though for me it's more practical not to check out regular books because then I won't return them. But I do enjoy being in the library.
Carrie: And not only that, but they're really serving as kind of that third space community space.
Amanda: Oh, I love the term third space! That's awesome.
Jasmine: Absolutely. Yes. Well, Carrie, thank you so much for joining us. This was amazing. And now I actually wanna go to the library!
Amanda: I know!
Jasmine: I really do. Y'all, support your local libraries.
Carrie: Well thank you so much for having me on.
Rachel: Thanks Carrie.
Amanda: Thank you! So that was great. So that reminded me, especially when you talk about all the different services... I have a friend who learned videography from a program at the library, and he now has his own business. He's actually a veteran and he now has his own business as a videographer. All because he went to a class at the library.
Jasmine: That’s actually really amazing. I mean, I know at ours, like as they keep building libraries here or upgrading them, they're doing all these new services. And so here in Gwinnett, we have several libraries that have incubators where they literally will help you kind of build up a business or some invention that you're making or whatever you're doing. They'll give you resources and help you kind of launch that.
Rachel: I keep thinking that they’re growing chickens, so thank you for explaining this cause you've said it twice and then I just keep thinking that they're hatching chickens.
Jasmine: Yeah, like, like tech incubators, not like physical incubators like to put eggs in. But yeah. I mean that would be cool too though.
Rachel: But you know, I mean, as we know, we know like the loneliness epidemic is huge. And also libraries are safe spaces. So I think they can be used as a community space. Like it's a place you can go, you don't spend money. Like you could go and hang out in Target for like three hours, but they might get a little bit weird and there's nowhere to sit down.
Amanda: That's true. And there's been issues with people being kicked out of Starbucks for doing just that.
Rachel: Yeah. So I feel like it's like it's nice for it to be like a place you can go and you can just go read a book and it's relatively quiet, but you're kind of also in the presence of other people and that can be really important. But for children as well after school, I mean, I think we've all three been there with young kids at home. If you can get out in public with the young kids rather than just being trapped in the house with them, it feels…
Amanda: Oh, it's helpful.
Rachel: Yes, it is very helpful for everyone involved.
Amanda: I also– so you're talking about loneliness, because we’re in an age when you can get everything without another person. And I know for me, like sometimes when I'm at, you know, different conferences and stuff without my husband and I just go out to a restaurant by myself, man, I never feel lonely with like a little book in hand and having dinner by myself. I am never lonely with a book in hand.
But also there's a book by a sociologist Eric Klinenberg called Palaces for People, and the palaces he's talking about are largely libraries. And that libraries were like the first palaces that were open to all of us and where we were all welcome.
Rachel: That's a good point.
Amanda: And he's very big on these third spaces that Carrie mentioned, these places where it's not home, it's not work,it's a place for all of us to be as a community. And he also links it to our democracy. If we don't have places for all of us to come together and be, then we don't have the community and democracy kind of falls apart.
Rachel: I never thought of it like that. That’s true actually.
Jasmine: I love that. I love that description. I also think about inclusion, and how libraries can be a place of inclusion. So this year our library held its first– well, first they decided to celebrate Ramadan and then they held a story time and it was the largest story time they'd ever had. It was so large that they had to move outside and have it in the amphitheater because so many kids showed up. And everyone who showed up was not Muslim. If that is not what community is all about, and if that is not an excellent example of what libraries can be for a community…
I feel like there's certain things that bring people together. Music is something that brings people together. Food usually brings people together. And I would say that books or stories in general bring people together. And so, you know, this is a, this is an opportunity for people to just hear the stories of others.
Amanda: Oh, I love that. You know what I hear in that too is I hear women. We're the mamas who bring the food. We also tend to be the story keepers of our families and our family histories. Like we are important.
Jasmine: We are. All right, so now we're gonna take a quick break and when we come back we'll have my interview with Jodi Picoult.
Jasmine: Our guest today is a New York Times bestselling author of 28 novels, including A Spark of Light, 19 Minutes, Small Great Things – one of my favorites, My Sister's Keeper, Change of Heart, and her newest book is Mad Honey. She's also used her platform to stand up for issues like education, LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom. Jodi Picoult, thank you so much for joining me on the Suburban Women Problem.
Jodi: It is my honor to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Jasmine: Oh man. All right, so I'm so ready to get into this. I wanted to start off by saying I love your books, and I am not the only one. Your books are frequently on the New York Times bestseller list, but at the same time, you sometimes get pigeonholed as a “chick lit” author. So could you tell us more about what that means to you and why do you think critics want to diminish novels about serious topics like abortion or school shootings or trans rights by calling them quote, “chick lit”?
Jodi: So this is something I've been very vocal about in my career, namely gender discrimination in publishing. In fact, it's the focus of the novel that I'm writing now for 2024. Just gender discrimination in history in general, in theater and in publishing, and in writing and all those things. Honestly, it's been going on for thousands of years and not much has changed.
When someone calls me a chick lit writer, what that tells me is that they really don't know anything about my books. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with chick lit. Let's start right there. There's no such thing as guilty pleasures. There's no such thing as like beach reads or romance, or you don't have to hide what you love to read, right? Because we all love to read different things at different times in our lives, and we all turn to books for different reasons at different times in our lives. So, of course I read chick lit, of course I'll pick up a beach read. I just don't happen to write them. They usually have very happy endings. They're light, they're fluffy. I write honestly the worst chick lit ever, if that's my genre, because I write about very serious topics.
And when people say “she writes chick lit,” what they really mean is “she has female genitalia,” right? A female author is constantly reduced to her gender, and the assumption is that if you write and you are a woman, what you write must be only appealing to women. So usually you're told, “you write women's fiction,” “you write chick lit,” you know, “you write romance,” you know, when that's not necessarily true. It always shocks people when they hear that just shy of 50% of my fan mail comes from men. So I think they'd be surprised to know that they're reading chick lit. You know, because I don't think that's why they come to the books.
Now what you said is right. When you're writing about topics that are weighty and meaty and full of the gray areas of morality, again, that just isn't the format or the genre for chick lit. Chick lit is usually much lighter, much more entertaining. Well, I'm not gonna say my books are entertaining, but chick lit is much more, they're meant for the entertainment value. They're the popcorn candy. They're the, they're the movie that you go to see when you want, you know, a popcorn flick rather than one that you're gonna sit and agonize about and sobbing. And you know, in that sense, I'm being pigeonholed. I don't think it's because of what I write, I think it's because of who I am writing. And it's frustrating to no end. Yeah, it drives me absolutely batty.
Jasmine: Yeah, I can imagine. You know, as a woman legislator I often get told that I only care about women's issues because, I mean, I'm a woman, so I only care about what women care about. Or I'm a Black woman, so I only care about what Black people care about. And I'm like, “Hey, guess what? I actually care about what people care about.” And a lot of times women fall into that. Black people fall into that. But so do a lot of other people. I don't understand why people can't appreciate that I can have a broader view than just who I am physically when they look at me.
Jodi: Not only that, but let's take a step back and ask… if I were writing women's issues, if I only were writing about abortion rights, for example, you know, or if I, if I happen to be a Black woman who is supporting some kind of BIPOC rights that that need supporting, why is that not something we should all care about? I mean that, that's actually the whole point. Right? Things don't change until the people who are unaffected are as angry as the ones who are.
Jasmine: That's an excellent point. I love that. So along with being pigeonholed as a chick lit author, you are also a part of the unfortunate club of authors whose books have been frequently banned. But you are not staying quiet about it. You've been an outspoken advocate of both libraries and of books. What has it felt like as an author to see so many of your books banned?
Jodi: It has been really upsetting. So, you know, on a personal level, nobody wants to have their book banned. You know, what you hear all the time is, “oh, everyone's gonna read it. It's gonna go back on the bestseller list.” That's actually not true. That happens for a very small subset of people. But the vast majority of books being banned are about BIPOC and LGBTQ issues, or by BIPOC and LGBTQ writers. I got roped in because apparently I write porn in addition to chick lit. These people seem to think that I write porn. I don't write porn.
And what was really interesting was 19 Minutes has been banned most frequently in about 20 states at this point, at different, in different school districts, because it is considered porn. Not because it's a book about school shootings, but because of a single page on which there is a date rape scene. Which is not gratuitous. It is endemic to the plot, and it uses the anatomically correct words for genitals. Uses the word penis. That I guess is really scary to people. And so what happens is people go in front of their school boards and they read page 313 aloud, they get the book banned, or they just nowadays literally fill out a piece of paper saying, “I want this book banned,” and they don't even read it.
I was used to having my books banned, you know, kind of here and there around the country, and PEN America would always get in touch with me and say, “oh, you've been banned today in Missouri or Ohio or New Jersey.” And then Martin County Florida banned 20 of my books in one fell swoop. It was one parent. She banned 92 books, 20 of them were mine. She had not read the books, and she actually stated this on the form. She is a member of Moms for Liberty. They are the national organization behind these bans right now. They are a bunch of mostly white suburban women who are crusading in the name of protecting children, who are actually doing children a great disservice. And what they're doing is, they're doing their best to revise history, to erase LGBTQ lives and people, and to sanitize everything that their children come across.
But it's not enough for them apparently to say, “my child should not be reading these books.” They keep saying, “your child should not be reading these books.” And therein lies the problem. As a parent, you absolutely have a right to decide what your child reads. You do not have the right to tell other parents what their children should read. And of course we know this is a slippery slope. We have seen historically what happens when we don't push back against book bans and we know we're already seeing it. It's not just book bans. Now we're also seeing productions of theater productions being canceled because they're objectionable to one person. We are seeing curricula being changed, you know African American history not being taught in Florida schools because for some reason it makes some people feel uncomfortable, right? Oh, how terrible for those people. Let's erase history, you know?
So we're starting to see that great erasure of reality and of history, and that is what book banners want. They want to rob kids of compassion. They want to rob kids of empathy. What we know scientifically is that a marginalized kid who sees themself in a book often feels much less marginalized. We also know that kids who feel left out can escape through books, you know. And there are, there's again, scientific proof of this. You can try to childproof the world, but you cannot world-proof a child. Those ideas, those issues, their feelings, they're already all out there in the world. You take away the books from kids who are trying to make sense of things. What you're really doing is taking away the resources they have to understand the world around them. And I think that's what these parents are completely missing out on.
You know, we're also of course seeing it spread not just to school libraries, but to public libraries. And what they're saying now is, “These libraries can't have these books in them. Okay, we're just gonna take all your money away. We're gonna close these libraries down.” You know, it is a really, really slippery, slippery slope. And they keep on choosing more and more egregious books to ban.
And you know, let's, again, let's back up. Nobody wants porn in schools. Nobody wants a five year old reading porn. But that is not what's happening, right? That's just the narrative that they're pushing. What they're really trying to remove from elementary schools are books about two male penguins raising an egg. Or books that say, when Rosa Parks wouldn't go to the back of the bus, it was because she was Black and that was why they told her to do it.
Jasmine: That still infuriates me. Like this whole idea, like we're gonna just completely take that part of the story out is, yeah. It's crazy to me.
Jodi: That's the important part of the story, right? So when you, when you don't give that information to a child, they are missing out on the history and the reality of the world. And to me that is incredibly frightening. We know that what books do is give kids who have never encountered people with lives different from them, a safe space in which to do so. And we know that books bring people together while book bans force them apart. And it's my opinion that in this country we're already really far apart. Shouldn't we be trying to build those bridges?
Jasmine: Exactly. So you also recently said that your “entire career has been about untangling the knots that society tangles itself in as we futilely attempt to separate the ‘us’ from the ‘them.’” So, speaking of building bridges, can you talk a bit about that? Like why do you think fiction is such a great way to untangle these knots?
Jodi: Because it's subversive! So the thing I love about fiction is that, you know, you might recognize, for example, that there is racism in society, right? But most people aren't going to go seek out non-fiction studies and the groups that are working in the space, you know, going to the Southern Poverty Law Center and looking up the hate groups in America and trying to figure out all the statistics behind why we say there's racism in this country.
But if you pick up a book, like Small Great Things, which is about racism in America, what you get is a story. You get a story about a person who you can identify with, not just one person, but multiple people. And what you start to realize over the course of that book is, you know, there are three narrators, for example, in Small Great Things. One is a Black woman who is a nurse who winds up at the target of a lawsuit. And then there is her white public defender, another woman, and then there is a white supremacist who is the one bringing the lawsuit against the Black woman. And when, when a lot of white people pick up that book, they point to it and they're like, “Oh, here's the racist, I see, it's this white supremacist.” By the end of that book, they realize, as the white public defender does, that there's a little bit of racism in them too. And that there is an awful lot of implicit bias in this world that we don't see, and that not acknowledging that the color of your skin, having light skin makes the world a much easier place for you is in itself a kind of racism. And a lot of white people, if you tell them that right on, they're like, “don't you tell me I'm a racist!” But if they learn it themselves through the discovery of characters in a book, it's a very subtle education.
And that is what I like most about fiction. It presents all different sides of an issue. It allows you as an author to step back and not inflict your point of view on someone, but to encourage the reader to ask themselves, “why is my opinion what it is, and what does the other side have to say? And maybe should I listen?” You may walk away from one of my books not having changed your mind, but your reasons for your opinion may be very different than they were going in, and that's really all I seek to do when I write a book. I seek to show you all the different sides of a very morally gray area or a difficult question, and I ask you to listen to everyone. That's it.
Jasmine: I love that. I mean, when I read Small Great Things, I think I went through a rollercoaster myself of just like, wow, you thought you knew who the antagonist was, and then throughout the book you're like, “wait, I actually, yeah, I actually don't know.” So that's why I love that book so much.
All right, so Jodi, we reached out to our community on social media before this interview, and let me just say that our community are big fans of your writing. So one of the most common questions they wanted to know is how you pick the topics of your books. How are you able to get in front of so many important social issues?
Jodi: Most people think that I just sit here combing a newspaper, you know, like looking for all the hot topics, and it's actually the exact opposite of that. The books that I write are about issues that keep me up at night, things that I worry about as a woman, as an American, as a mother. All the things that really make me scared. Or that I don't understand. And for me, the act of writing a book is a way of thrashing through a question that I don't have answers to. So I, I would hope that the act of writing a book for me is very similar to the act of reading it, you know, for my readers.
But I think the reason that my book seems so crazy timely is because we're all actually thinking about the same things. We're all worried about the same things. And so when it's something that's keeping me up at night, it's probably something keeping you up at night too, you know? So I think that's why the topics I gravitate towards feel extremely timely.
Jasmine: I love that. All right, so this has been great. I have enjoyed talking to you so much. But before we go, we always like to ask our guests a few rapid fire questions. So are you ready?
Jodi: Yeah, I am. Let's go.
Jasmine: All right. So question number one. So if you're a regular listener of the show they all know I love karaoke. So if you and I went out to sing karaoke together, what song would you choose?
Jodi: I think Dancing Queen by Abba.
Jasmine: That's a good one. Yeah, that's a good one.
Jodi: It's so good.
Jasmine: Good crowd participation. I love it. All right, so what's one thing you always have in your purse?
Jodi: I can't even believe this is the answer, but these days it's my Covid card.
Jasmine: Me too!
Jodi: Right? It's like, you get caught unaware and it isn't happening so much anymore, but, you know, someone’s like “oh, do you have proof?” And I'm like, you're digging through your purse for it. So I actually always keep it in there. I also always have a Sharpie. Because I'm a writer and you just never know when you might need to sign a book on the road.
Jasmine: I like it. For me, it's a pair of earrings because I feel like I have to have earrings or I feel naked, and so I keep one in my purse just in case I forget or one of mine falls off and I need to replace it.
Jodi: I’ll tell you what I never have in my purse when I need it, and that is an elastic for like a braid when I lose one. I always need those.
Jasmine: Oh, exactly. All right, so what book or books are you reading right now?
Jodi: I just finished Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld, which is fantastic. It's so funny. And just it was a great light, terrific read. And I just opened an advanced copy of a book called The Gentleman's Gambit, which is a historical romance by Evie Dunmore.
Jasmine: I think I’ve heard of that one as well.
Jodi: She's a great writer. I've read her others in the series and I haven't, I haven't had a chance to even look at this one yet, but it's, it's, next up.
Jasmine: Love it. All right, so if you found a genie's lamp and were given three wishes, what would they be?
Jodi: So, I mean, you gotta ask for world peace, right? Because otherwise you're just a jerk.
Jodi: World peace is one. I would ask for health, especially because I've had bronchitis for a month I’d really like some better lungs right now. And I think my third wish would be to abolish the patriarchy.
Jasmine: Those are great. I feel like your first wish and your third wish kind of go hand in hand.
Jodi: So I deserve a new pair of lungs right in the middle.
Jasmine: Right, exactly. Perfect. All right. If someone hasn't read any of your books yet but wants to jump in, where is a good place to start?
Jodi: You know, when I don't know much about a reader, I, I don't know what they like to read, cause my books are so specific based on topics that I often tell people to choose based on topic. And I will say a lot of people discovered me initially through My Sister's Keeper which is an oldie but a goodie.
But these days what I tell people to go to is Wish You Were Here. Because it's a book with a ridiculous, massive twist, probably the best twist I've ever written. And it's about, it takes place during Covid, which honestly, every single person in the universe experienced, right? So we all have a reference point to begin with for that. So it is, it's a good starting point if you haven't read it. Love it.
Jasmine: All right, I'm gonna add that to my list. So that is the end of our rapid fire questions. And so before we go, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?
Jodi: They can go to www.jodipicoult.com. They can find me on all the social media at @jodipicoult and TikTok I think I'm… I think I'm Real Jodi Pico or Jodi Pico Author, I can't even remember, but that's who I am.
Jasmine: Gotcha. This is me and TikTok too. I'm like, “I don't know what my handle is, but I'm there. I'm there. I do things on there every now and then.” All right, well, Jodi, it was such an honor to talk to you, and thank you so much for joining us on the Suburban Women Problem.
Jodi: Thank you so much for having me.
Amanda: Welcome back everyone. Jasmine, I loved your interview with Jodi. So I loved how she talked about, there's this slide that we can do that goes from banning books to taking, you know, books out of libraries to eventually defunding libraries. And this is exactly what we saw in Hudson where we saw certain members try to take over the school board, and when that didn't work out, they then turned their attention to libraries. And all along they were saying, “don't worry, we're just gonna ban them from the school. You can still go to the library.” And all along their plan was, now we're gonna go to the library. And you can't have the library either. And so I think it is important to think about where, you know, book bans can lead us when we don't have access to this type of information.
Rachel: Yeah. And I, I also, you know, although I think in the short term, it's, it's obviously true that if you ban a book, it's going to be short-term more popular and you know it's gonna get some publicity. But eventually, if it's not available, it won't be in publication. It will be much more difficult to find.
Amanda: Because it's harder to get.
Rachel: Absolutely. Yep. Yeah, and in the end, it's going to be much more difficult for just the publishing industry as a whole. I mean, fewer books will be published, so we'll, we're going to see, see, you know, enormous trickle down effects.
Jasmine: That's the scariest part about all of this, is eventually the tool that was used to help people might not be available. And the people who are doing this, they just don't care.
But on a lighter note, I think this is a good time for us to transition to our Toast to Joy, where we talk about something amazing, something great or happy or joyful that has happened in our life over the past week. And so Rachel, I'm gonna start with you. What is your Toast to Joy this week?
Rachel: Well, mine just happened about an hour ago.
Jasmine: Oh, wow.
Amanda: Hot off the presses!
Rachel: I know! Yes. We had someone who… you know, you buy a house and it’s “move-in ready” but there’s always these little things you have to do. So we had someone who was working on our air conditioners. It's Florida. We have three of them. Anyway, they had to go and come back. And by the way, it was a husband and wife team, and I remember commenting like, “Oh my gosh. I don't know how you do it. You should probably write a book or have a podcast or something.”
But they, anyway, so that's a whole different thing. But when they came back, they just said to Alex, like, “Hey, we weren't sure if it was you, but it's you and you know, thank you.” And it was really nice. And then my husband asked him, “Hey, do you have a connection to the military?” And he was like, “No, I didn't have parents growing up. I actually lived on the streets. And then I met my wife when I was 17 and we've been together ever since for 27 years.”
And, I don't know. It was such a beautiful story. There was something, it was so, so great. I was glad that they said something, but it was, it was also just the words they used and, and the way they talked to him was, was very sweet and very kind. And they said, hey, they're happy for us for moving into a new house and moving away and starting a new life. And I, I appreciated that as well because it definitely feels like what we've done. But I hope we can see them again. They're gonna come back and do some other stuff and I can hear more about the story of just like, you know, overcoming a bad situation and not letting it rule the rest of your life and doing something great. Anyway, so Nick and Cindy are my Toast to Joythis week. So Amanda, what's yours?
Amanda: Aw, that's an awesome story. Alright, so my Toast to Joy is my family and I went hiking and mostly it goes like this. We're like, “Hey guys, why don't we go hiking?” And like, they're like, just give me a face. And I’m like, “Come on, it'll be so fun!” But I finally did convince them. We all went hiking and there's a little river, so we kind of went like off-roading, is what I think about hiking. So we took the trail for a little bit and then we just let 'em all go crazy in the river and oh my gosh, they all loved it so much. Even my husband was like, “This was actually really fun.”
Jasmine: I love hiking.
Amanda: So fun. Right? I feel like they complain about it every time, but then they have a good time.
Jasmine: Yeah, my kids didn't wanna, I made them go hiking with me one year for Mother's Day, but then by the end, like it was so fun. Like we played in water and skipped rocks and we had fun. But yeah, like in the moment they're like, “Eh, I don't really wanna do this.”
Amanda: Same same. Alright. Jasmine, what's your Toast to Joy?
Jasmine: So my Toast to Joy is to… you guys know I love sports. I actually took Jayda to her first Atlanta United, that's the U Atlanta soccer team. I took her to her first Atlanta United game.
Amanda: That's very Ted Lasso of you.
Jasmine: It was so fun. My friend has season tickets and they're really good seats. And she had two extra tickets, so me and Jayda went to the game. And it was like, probably like the most boring game for like the first 80 minutes. Like, it's like nothing was happening, no scores were happening. It's just like a lot of passing and just like every time they should have shot the ball, they weren't.
But you know, I wanted her to have a really good time, so I was just trying to be a good trooper. And then in like the last 10 minutes, they scored three goals! But it was a, it was so much fun and I always enjoy allowing my kids to have like, you know, new experiences. And she's played soccer before, but she had never been to a game, so that was really fun.
Amanda: Aw, that's awesome.
Jasmine: So thanks so much to everyone for joining us today. If you missed our 100th episode live event last week, but you still want to be a part of the celebration, you can watch a video of the event on Red Wine and Blue’s YouTube channel. We'll put the link in our show notes and we'll see you again next week on another episode of The Suburban Women Problem.