Pandemics and Podcasts: Why I Started Books From My Childhood

Arianna Njonge

The time is April of 2020. Vanderbilt University has sent students home due to the rampant spread of the COVID-19 virus. In an instant, life as a college student changed dramatically for me. Friends I was used to seeing everyday were relinquished to sporadic Facetime calls and texts, in which we often reminisced about the days when we could be together and have fun. Beyond this personal change and the consequent sadness it brought was the tragic spread and increasing gravity of the pandemic, and the thousands of deaths that resulted. As a young Black woman who has been involved in community organizing and activism for a long time, I felt like the world was just doomed. If it was not the weight of these deaths it was the existing inequalities and inequities that were magnified by the pandemic. If it was not that, it was the looming issue of climate change and the blatant disregard for this and the mishandling of the pandemic by leadership in the government. On top of that, having to watch continuous Black suffering on the airwaves meant that I was under undue stress, which only compounded the usual stress of a college student on the pre-med track. In the midst of these tumultuous times, I looked for something and anything to ground myself in. It felt as though everything was changing, and only getting worse.

I ultimately found myself at home with a lot of time, stress, and no clue with how to fill my time or deal with the stress. Surrounding me, however, were books from my childhood. From The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho to Roots by Alex Haley to Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, I was inundated with reminders of my days as a child-bookworm. My family and I decided to start reading and to discuss the books we read. Although we eventually got busy and stopped having a family book club, I continued to read these books I had first read many years ago. The experience was transformative to say the least. I realized that so many of the values I hold, the lessons that guide me in life, were lessons pulled directly from these books. No matter who the author, what the genre, or how big the book, I always subconsciously gained inspiration, comfort, or wisdom from these texts. I wondered, what exactly were these lessons? What did little Arianna think of these books then? How has my perspective on these books changed? I decided that the best way to answer these questions would be through self-reflection and then I thought: why not share this with the world? The lessons in these books were often universal, transgressing lines of color, creed, gender, national origin, etc. As an ardent podcast listener, from Angela Rye’s On One to NPR’s Code Switch to Pod Save America, I loved how easy it was for me to learn, listen, and connect with the world as I went about my day. I fell in love with podcasting as a platform, and I admired the wide range of topics that could be discussed and explored using this outlet by just about anyone. Why not me? From this time of reflection at home, my original podcast, Books From My Childhood, was born. Although it took months to find the time to get it off the ground and running, I am grateful for the chance to share parts of myself, many of which I am realizing and seeing for the first time, with whoever wants to listen. And as always, I am grateful for the books that give me comfort and keep me grounded. If you’d like to listen to Books From My Childhood, you can find it anywhere you listen to podcasts or follow us on Instagram Thank you so much for reading, and Sawubona - “I see you, and by seeing you, I bring you into being.”

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