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!).

Jessie Szalay’s writ­ing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Aspara­gus, The For­ward, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­el­er, and as a notable in the Best Amer­i­can Essays of 2017. She lives in Salt Lake City where she teach­es writ­ing in a prison edu­ca­tion program.