Host of the award-winning podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, Zibby Owens has been called New York’s “Most Powerful Book Influencer.” During lockdown, she edited the essay collection, Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology. She discussed the pandemic, parenting, and Judaism with Jessie Szalay.
Jessie Szalay: You’ve been doing the Moms Don’t Have Time to Read podcast for a few years now. You write that at the start of the pandemic you desperately wanted to help and threw yourself into more literary projects, trying to help authors promote their work. How was this book’s development born from that desire? A year into the pandemic, do you still feel that urgency?
Zibby Owens: My book came about because of my interest in commissioning original content from the authors I’d gotten to know while interviewing them for my podcast. Many times I wanted to hear more. During the pandemic, I threw those essays up on my own website in an online magazine called We Found Time. Last September, I realized I had enough essays to make a book! By publishing an anthology with all those authors baring their souls, I knew that readers would then go and buy the books the authors had originally written. And they have!
While I still do want to help authors, the urgency I felt when the world came to a halt has ebbed. Right then, I knew book tours were being cancelled and books, some of which had been in development for a decade or more, were coming out into a landscape of shuttered bookstores. I wanted to help get the word out to cushion their crash landing. Now, authors are standing on their own two feet again, but I can help lift them up off the ground.
JS: Many of the essays in this collection capture a particular moment in time, the early, crazy, sourdough-making quarantine time, while some were clearly written before that. What are your thoughts on how the collection reflects the pandemic experience (so far)?
ZO: I agree. Some essays speak to those beginning moments and make me marvel at how we all pulled through it. Others are more evergreen.
JS: What are some of the essays from the collection that have stuck with you?
ZO: I hate to choose favorites! And I truly love them all. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Bill Dameron’s essay about sex in middle age. Can’t imagine why….
JS: You say that you always read the Acknowledgments section of a book first — what do you love about this section?
ZB: Oh, I love the Acknowledgements! They reveal so much about the author, the team behind the book, the process, and the back-story. There are usually hidden gems in there, things I’d only get after interviewing the author.
JS: In the introduction, you write that sometimes you felt like a “medium or a psychic.” How does it feel to be a “trusted intermediary?”
ZB: It feels amazing to be a trusted intermediary and I take my role very seriously. I felt like a medium because I was trying to channel some voices and bring them to the others that needed them.
Now, authors are standing on their own two feet again, but I can help lift them up off the ground.
JS: You’ve written about incorporating Jewish rituals into your family’s life, and wanting to do more of it. How has Covid impacted your Jewish practice?
ZB: Covid has intensified my Jewish practices. I’ve watched many virtual Shabbat services whereas I rarely went to in-person services unless it was for my daughter’s Hebrew School. I love having the music of the service in the house even if I’m not sitting down watching the whole thing. Hearing Hebrew grounds me, even if it’s a crazy Friday evening with family running around. I’ve regularly celebrated Shabbat by lightning candles and having challah, but now I never miss a Friday.
JS: I had my first baby at the start of the pandemic and, as a new mom, I related to so much of the book. I don’t have time for anything! If you could pick one thing you don’t have time to do and, magically, always have time for it, what would it be?
ZB: Congratulations! Wow, what a time to be a new mom! I’d like the magic power to spend more time with my husband, especially when we’re not both stressed or working!
JS: What’s next for you? You’ve hinted that there will it be another book — can you tell us anything about that?
ZB: Oh, so much! I’m so excited. I’m starting Wake Up and Write, a short-form podcast with daily doses of writing inspiration, read by Kyle Owens and Nina Vargas, with advice said on my podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. I’m recording the audiobook for Moms Don’t Have Time To. I’m finalizing my children’s book Princess Charming. I just announced a Fellowship Program for debut women memoirists. I’m launching Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Sex, the podcast with international sex expert Tracey Cox. I’m also launching Moms Don’t Have Time to Travel and Moms Don’t Have Time to Grieve. I just started The Zibby Awards, for the often over-looked parts of books and the team behind them. My next anthology, Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids, comes out November 2nd, 2021. And I’m working on a memoir… in my spare time (ha!).