This is an interview that I originally did back in December and it was another first for this blog. I interviewed Jessica Rodriguez, a really cool lady, and someone I technically met for the very first time. Jessica is a writer, marketer, and volunteer for Lean In Canada, where she blogs and runs a book club for empowering women.
HPL: The infamous first question: what have you been reading lately?
JR: Right now, I carry books with me at all times. There are four books in my bag right now. I’m not reading four books, but I like the safety net of four books. So, I’m actually reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, I definitely recommend. I’m a pretty fast reader but sometimes I just want to be with a book for a while, and Gyasi’s breaking it up by characters which makes it easy for me to be like, “I’m not going to read this for two more days!” Because I want it to last. It’s really good! If you’re thinking of reading it, get it now. I bought it because the cover is so beautiful and it has a quote by Ta-Nehesi Coates saying, “This is amazing!” And he’s amazing so I knew it must also be amazing. I’m also reading The Red Tent which is different for me. I’m not sure if I’m going to like it, it was recommended to me by someone. Tangent – I actually run a book club for Lean In Canada, it’s very new, we’ve only read so many books. This is somebody’s favourite feminist book and this is a feminist organization so we’re going to read your favourite book and take turns. It is a rewriting of biblical stories from the perspective of Dinah? I don’t know the Bible so I’m struggling, but it basically gives a voice to the women of the Bible. I’m enjoying it, it’s pushed me to read something I would never read on my own.
HPL: So what exactly do you do with Lean In?
JR: I volunteer as a content writer so I write for their blog an
d their newsletter. Real fun. I love volunteering and I was looking for some opportunity so I decided to do something that I actually care about. And I care about the ladies.
HPL: Do you know which book made you want to study English?
JR: Not at all. Writing made me want to study English; the only reason I studied English was the rhetoric program at Waterloo. But if I had to say one book that was like “Damn, this is my jam” at the time and it made me love English literature, and literature in general, is – so stereotypical emo girl – but The Bell Jar. I read that book and was like, “She knows my heart!” I’ve always been a nerd who was part of the White Pine reading club and I’ve always been into reading. But I think it was when I read that book that I realized a book can just like punch you in the heart.
HPL: Fiction or nonfiction?
JR: Fiction and I can say that with confidence. My favourite books are fiction but I have been expanding into non-fiction. Through university, I was just reading strictly fiction because everything is a textbook so I just wanted to read something poetic and beautiful – no facts please – but I’m getting back into it now. Especially with this Lean In book club because I’m trying to pick books that not only would I enjoy but other people would enjoy and have to do with the theme of women and business. So I just finished Anne-Marie Slaughter’sUnfinished Business, really good! It’s one of those books that’s very research heavy and is basically, “This is why women still can’t have it all.” And okay, it’s not telling me much new, I know that women can’t have it all but at the same time I learned a lot because she is quoting so many different studies and gave a lot of substance to pretty loose, already heard statements. And she’s just a really smart woman. So yeah, I’m diving into nonfiction. I feel like an adult.
HPL: I know what you mean. I hardly read non-fiction in the last few years but if you’re looking for a book by a powerful lady have you heard of Quiet?
JR: I have a massive Excel sheet with a bunch of books. Side note: I was only reading books written by women for the last two years. It wasn’t until the US election, that I was like “ugh” and read The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and I felt better. Even though I felt shitty at the same time. But I had made this massive, giant list of books written by women and I have it in tabs like fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwrights, and Quiet is in there but I haven’t gotten there yet. My favourite thing about reading is reading about a lived experience or personal experience, and I think that’s why with it nonfiction isn’t as cool because you’re missing that protagonist. I don’t even care if they remind me of me. I just want them to be someone with a life, and here’s some other way to look at the world.
HPL: You mentioned the US election, I read an article a while ago about bibliotherapy and it’s this concept that you can read, especially fiction, to help cope with different events. And I’ve noticed since the election just a slew of lists being released of the best books to read and feel better about the world. Are there any other books you call your go-to when you’re sad or books that just turn it around for you?
JR: Honestly, I don’t have a go-to book when I’m sad. I really like reading books that have to do with race and feminist issues, so whenever I’m sad I like to read those books as some affirmation that other people care about these issues too. The world isn’t that bad. There are some people who are trying to make it better, there are some people who are trying to educate. There are some people who are reading [the same book] right now and are having their minds blown because they never thought of it this way, and that makes me hopeful. It’s really sad to read a book about Jim Crow Laws but if somebody’s reading this and they’re getting something out of it that they never had before that’s really meaningful. If somebody’s writing this, it means somebody’s researching this. It just has this sense of community. But sometimes you just have to go to art and not be in the now and not be in the world, just let yourself get lost. I’ve seen a lot of people say now is the time to create and that is how we fight back, and it pulls at my heartstrings.
HPL: I definitely think there’s going to be a whole new wave of James Baldwins out of this which just makes me so pumped.
JR: Definitely! I put a reservation on The Fire This Time, it’s a collection of essays that are a response to The Fire Next Time from the last couple of years. I’m like 189 out of 199 people who have it on hold so it’s going to be a while before it gets to me.
HPL: You mentioned your list has playwrights too. Do you read a lot of plays?
JR: Not as much but I like to keep it varied. If I’m reading a massive book I like to follow it up with a shorter book or read books at the same time. So I also just read Animal Farm because it was only going to take like a minute. I think the first book I read out of my whole women-slash-gender-non-conforming-people reading list was Top Girls and I actually have another play by Harold Pinter called The Homecoming. I haven’t started it yet but I went to see a production of one of his plays and it was very witty.
HPL: If you could recommend a book to young ladies everywhere, what would it be?
JR: I would say definitely think about reading any Virginia Woolf. She is such a good lady, classic lady. Mrs. Dalloway probably makes my top 10 of favourite books. For something more recent, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s very recent especially if you enjoy writing and things about race and coming into yourself. That’s a good one. Love Medicine because it’s one of my favourites and I think we should read all of everything that was written by Louise Erdrich.
To hear more about what Jessica is up to, follow her on Twitter @tweetsfromjess and check out the Lean In Canada blog.