From the opening pages of NOTORIOUS RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s clear that the co-authors, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, have done their research. The book stands out from the general run of autobiographies. It is fun, artfully crafted with annotated dissents, personal anecdotes, and endless tributes to the remarkable jurist. Seriously, what other Supreme Court judge has an internet collage of memes dedicated to her? The concept grew out of Knizhnik’s popular Tumblr, Notorious RBG, a playful ode to the legendary Brooklyn rapper, Notorious B.I.G.
The unlikely comparison is accurate. Like the original B.I.G., Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is formidable; gloriously holding your attention with each word. The creative mash-up of pop culture and unconventional storytelling honor her legacy in each chapter. By the end, your admiration for Ginsburg will intensify. Because, not only do you realize she was the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law School, but now you can replicate her workout plan. Relive her white-water rafting trip in Colorado. Or attempt RBG’s favorite Marty Ginsburg (her loving husband) recipe: Pork loin braised in milk. Again, the authors were uncannily thorough. Overall, it’s a highly entertaining yet intimate look at the justice’s extraordinary life and work.
After finishing the book, I was curious about what the authors read themselves. Irin Carmon and I took a visit to the Greenlight Bookstore to discuss what’s in her “to-be-read” pile, political heroines, and the one book she would recommend to Justice Ginsburg. —Glory Edim
*Reading Spaces is a new column where we peek into author bookshelves and personalities.
How did the Notorious RBG come to life?
My co-author, Shana Knizhnik, created the inimitable phenomenon of the Notorious RBG on Tumblr after Justice Ginsburg’s series of fierce dissents from the bench. I’m a reporter covering women’s rights, politics and the law, and we teamed up to turn RBG’s life into a beautifully-illustrated story.
What are you currently reading?
I just started Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana, and am reading a galley of Rebecca Traister’s remarkable All the Single Ladies. (People of America, mark your calendars for March 1st!)
Describe yourself as a reader
I want to be wholly engrossed.
What specific genres do you enjoy reading?
Definitely narrative nonfiction about women’s lives, history, law and politics. A book like Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, that reads like a novel but is a work of history, is everything to me. For fiction, I like some contemporary fiction — the last new-ish novel I truly loved was Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies — but I love a good 19th-century/early 20th-century novel when I have time. I just want to savor every sentence of George Eliot and Edith Wharton.
Above: Sketch of RBG by Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
If you could recommend one book to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, what would it be?
I just reviewed (and loved) The Firebrand and The First Lady, by Patricia Bell-Scott, about the friendship between civil rights hero Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt. As we write in our book, Murray was a friend and inspiration to Justice Ginsburg, and in any case, she is someone who values the stories of women’s lives.
What book do you find yourself recommending to friends?
Two recently, shaped by my own book prep: Gilbert King’s The Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, another work of history that reads like a novel, and Serena Mayeri’s Reasoning from Race: Feminism, Law and the Civil Rights Revolution, which shows how some of our current conflicts about race and gender were formed a half century ago.
Above: “Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth” stickers by Frank Chi & Aminatou Sow
How do you decide what book to read next?
It’s usually driven by whatever I’m working on — or where I’m going.
Huge thank you to Greenlight Bookstore; support independent bookstores. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
You can follow Irin on Twitter and at #NotoriousRBG
Glory Edim is a self-described bibliophile and the founder of the Brooklyn book club, Well-Read Black Girl. When she’s not reading, you can find her shopping at flea markets and planning her next adventure. Friends enjoy her spontaneous nature, witty humor and uncanny ability to turn obstacles into popsicles.