Meet Abby Hysmith – The Book Club Curator

[ Hi friends! I am back and introducing a new series of posts I will be bringing to you every couple weeks this summer – Women Who Inspire. Simply put, I will be interviewing women in my life who inspire in their own unique ways, giving you a peek into a part of their story and highlighting the way they’re making this world a better place. I’m thrilled for you to hear their stories! ] 

Meet Abby Hysmith – The Book Club Curator 

Abby and I first met freshman year of college when we moved onto the same floor of the same dorm – green and eager to get started with all the socializing. A few years and several babies between us later, she is just as bubbly and fresh-faced as she was at 18. She rocks the stay-at-home-homeschool mom gig and in the past couple years has started her own book club of sorts – completely by accident. She started sharing a little about each book as she finished it in simple posts to her friends and family on good ole’ Facebook, and now she has quite the loyal following. Thanks to Abby, I am never at a loss as to what to read, and have found myself referring to her past posts before I decide on my next read. She reads everything and reads it fast, then shares thoughtful reviews that aren’t in novel form. Abby has found connection and community through books and it’s such a beautiful lesson especially with the strange season we’ve all found ourselves in of late. I loved my conversation with Abby and I know you will too and if you’re not a reader now, I dare say you’ll be converted after hearing from the curator herself. Enjoy!

Have you always been such an avid reader? Did something spark your love of reading? 

As long as I can remember, I have loved reading. My mom took us to the library when we were kids, she read to us all the time, and she is a reader herself. I often remember staying up past bedtime with a flashlight reading and actually confessing this to my parents one Christmas Eve for some reason. One summer, our neighbors’ mom, who took watched my sister and me a lot while my mom cared for her sick dad, challenged her kids and us to a reading contest. We had reading logs that we kept track of our progress with, and whoever read the most books at the end of the summer got a Toys R’ Us gift certificate. I got sick for a few days towards the end of the summer, and I remember reading many books at my grandfather’s house and filling out that reading log. I won that gift certificate with a lot of Beverly Cleary and Judy Bloom books.

How do you choose books to read? Is there any sort of method to the madness, or you simply pick up anything that looks interesting? 

I have an extensive Amazon Wish list full of books, my husband and mother-in-law are the book fairies in my life, and they will often show up in our mailbox or on my doorstep.

I get a lot of book suggestions from friends who will message me or tell me in person, you need to read this book, so I will add it to my list or just pick it up right then. I have even had people say, “Hey, I just put a book in your mailbox.” Or just bring it by and then we talk about books and I run in the house to get one for them that popped into mind.

My husband and I like to go on bookstore dates just to browse. I have been a part of book clubs or, when that is hard to coordinate, a friend and I have agreed to read the same book and discuss it over coffee.

“I have realized that if you put it out there that you enjoy reading or want to read more often, people are passionate about good books and will share books they love with you.”

As a mom of 5, how do you find time to read?

When my children were younger, and there were fewer of them, I read a lot at their nap times. I do a large chunk of my reading when no one else is awake in my house, at night. I stay up much later than my husband reading most nights. If my kids are all playing happily outside, I will often grab my book and read on the patio or in the driveway while they run around me. I am a pretty fast reader, and I have reading stamina, so I can knock out a book in a few days, but I think those things come from reading practice. Like running, the more you do it, the easier it is, and the longer you can do it and faster.

How do you encourage your boys to read? 

We read to them a lot. Some days and weeks, more than others, but we have built it into our day as something we always do. My husband puts our two youngest boys to bed and reads to them, while I read aloud from a chapter book with our two 6-year-olds.

Our oldest is an avid reader, and he reads for hours at night after his brothers are long asleep.

We started doing read-aloud time with him in the evenings once everyone else was in bed, starting with the Harry Potter series, and it has been one of the most magical things we have ever done.

We have read several other excellent books together at night, even though he could read them all himself.

We also own a lot of books. I am very minimalist minded in almost every material area than books! That way, there is always something to read. I try to read suggestions from my 9-year-old too because I love it when someone reads a book I love.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of dedicating so much time to reading?

As a stay-at-home mom, it is sometimes intimidating to be around grown-ups, or even college students and feel like you have anything to add to a conversation sometimes. Being a reader, especially of diverse books, has given me knowledge and perspectives to share that I wouldn’t have in my everyday life.

Books are a great springboard for conversation about fun stories, like Harry Potter, but also important topics. It’s a simple way to engage in a conversation about something that isn’t simple, like racism. I can ask a black friend if they’ve read The Hate U Give, and provide space for them to share their thoughts on that if they want. This lets them know that I’m trying to learn about their experiences without giving them the responsibility of educating me themselves.

I’ve read several books about parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum or with other special needs. It gave me a much-needed glimpse into the lives of families who have challenges that are different from my own. Recently, during the quarantine, staying at home time, I have thought of many of the books I have read set during WW2 era, fiction, or non-fiction. It helped me to remember that so many people have been through tough times. While this time is hard and weird, we have food, and we are safe.

“Reading just makes your world bigger. Even though I am a white, middle-class, stay at home mom, I can walk in someone else’s shoes through their stories.”

Favorite non-fiction you’ve read lately? 

I just finished a book called Everything Lost is Found Again by Will McGrath. I loved it because it is a memoir of his time spent in Lesotho, a very unknown country where our son was born. Memoirs are my favorite form of non-fiction.

Favorite fiction you’ve read lately?

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall has been the fiction book that stands out for me as of late. I have recommended it, and people have loved it. It is a profound, well written, character-driven novel that touched me deeper than I was expecting.

Is there a book that you always recommend or does it depend? Anything else you want to add?

I always recommend Educated by Tara Westover, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, all memoirs or true stories that blew my mind.

I often recommend some of my favorite novels: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I think these appeal to most readers, especially women. And of course, I will always love the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games series.

In the midst of the national uprising tied to racial tension we’re experiencing right now, can you recommend some books you’ve read – or your kiddos – that speak to these issues and/or are written by black authors?

Non-Fiction:

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I’m Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (one of Bryan Stevenson’s clients, author of Just Mercy)

Adult Fiction:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Slay by Brittney Morris

Middle Grade:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Black History, Kids Edition (non-fiction) by Stephen Jones Sr.

Picture Books:

Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure by Danual Berkley

Dream Big and Salt in His Shoes by Deloris Jordan

Any parting words?

To say that books have changed my life may sound strange to some people. I think some people feel like reading is a way to retreat from the world or that it’s anti-social. I have found that it is actually a way for me to better engage with the world, see it differently, and see people differently. I would never know what it’s like to be a young Indian girl growing up in the caste system, what it is like to be a black man in America, or an orphan wizard trying to defeat the Dark Lord. Because of these stories, I can look at people and think, “Oh, you probably have a story, and that story is important. So maybe if I hear your story, I can better understand you and learn a little about myself.”

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