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Kimberly Ford is Helping Us Become Better Readers – One Awesome Online Lecture at a Time

Have you ever read a book and wondered if you picked up on everything the author intended? Or wondered what a literature professor might say about the book and if there are any themes you may have missed? I recently had that experience after reading The North Woods, a popular book that everyone seemed to like and I didn’t. What had I missed that everyone else loved? Then I watched Kimberly Ford discuss the book on her YouTube channel, The Foxed Page, and had my “Aha” moment…actually many of them…and left with a completely new, deeper understanding of the book.

Kimberly Ford has been ‘a lifetime devotee of literature’ who recently launched the site/podcast/YouTube channel The Foxed Page to encourage others to love reading and literature as much as she does. To say Kimberly is accomplished is an understatement. She got her Ph.D. in Spanish and French literature at Penn, was an adjunct professor at Berkeley (Spanish Literature), is a best-selling author (Hump: True Tales of Sex After Kids), and lectures on literature. She speaks French and Spanish, can read Portuguese and Italian, and is currently learning both Irish and German in order to read some literature in their original languages. Whew! Kimberly is an empty-nester mom of three whose heart has always been in being a literature professor. She has now become that, on her own terms, with her podcast/YouTube channel and website, The Foxed Page.

The Foxed Page (a term for a well-worn book) is a home for literature lovers and learners. Kimberly’s free lectures (delivered via both podcast and video) make you feel like you are in a super cool literature class with a super smart and fun lecturer. She gives deep dives into books in a very personal, intelligent, fun (props and costumes often included on her YouTube option!), and ‘user-friendly’ way that makes the viewer understand and enjoy a book on a much deeper level. You can choose from long-form lectures, quick recommendations, talks on old favorites, and a lot of episodes from her archives. Listeners/viewers don’t need to have read the book in order to enjoy the lectures, and they are great for book clubs.

And people are loving it! In the 8 months since The Foxed Page launched, over 5,000 listeners have tuned in to over 14,000 episodes (there are 70+ podcast/YouTube episodes). We chatted with Kimberly about how The Foxed Page came to be and what she hopes listeners are getting from it.

How did you decide to launch The Foxed Page?
It really evolved over time. I have been a lifetime devotee of literature. I was in graduate school, got my PhD, and then I did a stint of writing, but the goal was always a professorship actually. It really started 8 years ago when I was giving talks at the local bookstore, Kepler’s, which are really like college courses. We went online with everybody else during Covid, and that was when we started meeting weekly and our numbers grew, because suddenly we could have people from everywhere tuning in. I then realized I would love to reach a much wider audience. And here we are.

The Foxed Page has given me a way to teach literature and to really engage people in literature. It’s great, as I get all of the perks of an academic life and academic engagement with none of the bullshit! I don’t have to publish anything. I can read exactly what I want, and I can provide a very wide breadth of things for people to listen to.

Do people have to have read the book before listening to/watching one of your segments?
You don’t have to have read the book. You could listen first, or you could listen and decide if you want to read it. I’m not assuming that you have already read it.

How do you decide what you read and talk about?  Is everything you’re reading potentially for the podcast?
The answer is the latter. My reading is so idiosyncratic. I’ll see something in People magazine or the New York Review of Books or I’ll see a movie, or a friend might recommend something.  Sometimes I’ll get into a vein, like currently I’m doing a Jane Austen week. I read Pride and Prejudice, and then I purposefully read three adaptations of it. But more often than not it’s totally random, and the books come to me from all different sources. I don’t do lectures on everything I read though. I do lectures on what I like! It’s really about elucidating things that I’ve found interesting.

How often are you doing your podcast?
There’s a new episode every Monday without fail. And then often there’ll be something else on Fridays – either I’ll repost an ‘old favorite’ or do something that’s not a full-fledged lecture. So basically twice a week. And it’s the exact same content on the podcast as well as on YouTube. On YouTube I feather in lots of fun images to give context. And occasionally I dress up!

Do you produce it? Shoot it, and edit and post?
Yes, and I did not think I would like it but I do. A lot of it’s pretty intuitive. I do everything on iMovie, and I’ve learned a lot by trial and error. But weirdly, I really like that the production is kind of like editing used to be when I was writing.  I’ll make the content, which is a big effort, and then the editing is a fun, crafty kind of tinkering.

How long are the podcasts/videos?
They’re all between an hour and 90 min. A few are 45 minutes. They’re these old favorites,  like, ‘Are you there God, It’s Me Margaret’ and “The Frog and Toad”, and “Where the Wild Things Are”.  But, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ for example, is this very psycho-analytic lecture about the book, and ‘The Frog and the Toad’  is all about rhyme and meter, and, prose and poetry, as well as about Arnold Lowbell, and how it was a big part of his coming out, and how he died of AIDS. So it’s a very adult look at these childhood favorites. So those are all about an hour. But if I’m doing a full, deep dive, like on ‘Pride and Prejudice’, that will generally be closer to 90 min. It’s really like a college or grad school lecture.

Tell us about your content. You’re talking about popular books as well as classics?
It’s a very close reading, a real deep dive, and they follow the same pattern. We do a little biography of the author. And then we look at the opening, we look at the narrative stance, and we move through it. And then there are enriched reads, for instance where I was comparing David Copperfield with Demon Copperhead.  I look at current popular books as well as classics. For instance, at the end of the year, I went through ‘the best of 2023 list’ very methodically. But then there are also really weird, bizarre books that I pick up for no reason, and people tend to like that. You’ll never be at a loss for what to read next. A lot of people value this idea of ‘I never would have read that book if you hadn’t done this talk on it.’

What do you think is drawing your audience to tune in?
My hope is that it’s entertaining, and that people end up reading more because of it. I don’t think there are that many things to do out there these days that are really healthy for you, really inexpensive, do not rely on technology, and are just good for your soul and your body. Reading is one of them. I also think there is a certain sense of community in knowing that other people have read the same thing. My hope is just to inspire people to read more.

There is a real dearth of the kind of thing that I’m doing. I would read a book and think ‘Wow! I’m dying to hear more about this – I want some analysis or someone’s thoughts on it’.  Other podcasts are primarily people talking about their personal opinions of a book, and what I really wanted was to deeply understand the thing. I aim to provide that understanding via The Foxed Page.

So who is it geared towards?
If someone is an avid reader, it allows them to go much deeper into a given text, to develop a little more skill, and to get more out of everything that they’re reading. I also think there’s a whole group of people who want to be better at reading, and I think The Foxed Page definitely does that. People read differently because what I offer is pretty demanding and a lot of what I’m talking about is pretty elevated. My talks are at a college-level course, if not a graduate level. There’s a lot of information on strategies to approach literature that I think people really appreciate. They’re like, ‘Oh, wait! I remember that from tenth grade English’ and, ‘Oh, wait! I’ve never heard of this thing’, and they’ll start applying this new learning to whatever it is they’re reading. People are getting different skills from each lecture, and then are able to apply all of these different skills to whatever it is they’re currently reading.

For instance, in literary fiction there is a lot to dig into. So it’ll be a book like The North Woods where no one’s thinking about posthumanism when they’re reading, except for me. And I’ve also read it twice, and this is what I’m trained to do. I aim to make it approachable, and not intimidating so that it doesn’t make you feel bad that you didn’t learn all of it when you read it on your own.

I just read in a different way than most people do. I read with a pencil in hand, and I read with these lectures in mind. Most people are listening on Audible and driving the car. So I think people appreciate it, especially when it is a little bit more difficult. For instance with my current Pride and Prejudice series, I’m not expecting everyone to go back and read Pride and Prejudice, but maybe you read it in college and you might think  ‘Wait. It’d be kind of fun to have like a little Jane Austen refresher! I can exercise this part of my brain.’ I think people feel good about that.

But what’s fun for me is that I didn’t study any of these English books because I wasn’t an English Lit major, so I’m getting to create my own syllabi and getting to do all this stuff that I would have done as a graduate student with these English books. It’s so fun.

Are you an audible listener?
Yes, I love Audible. But if I’m going to really read, it’s going to be paper, partly because I really believe in paying those artists $30 for a hardcover book, and also because I always read with a pencil in hand. I like everything about paper books. But I love Audible too, especially with all the British and Irish books, or anything with an accent! But I feel like you kind of ground yourself when you’re reading a book and I’m a little more focused with a paper book.

If someone hasn’t picked a book in a while, how does someone dip their toe back in the water?
I would go to the podcast and scroll down to see what catches your attention because there are 70 books on there now and the list is always growing. Then as you’re reading through the titles, you might think, ‘Oh, wait! I heard about that one’, or ‘Oh, wait! I saw that television show’, or ‘Oh, wait! You know somebody was just reading that’, or ‘Oh wait! That’s my sister’s favorite book’’.  And that’s a great starting point.

I’m also really into the idea of novellas because, especially for someone who hasn’t been in the reading world for a while, it feels like you’ve read a complete work and you can feel very accomplished because you’ve read this great piece of fiction.

And if you want to read something that’s pretty mainstream, go to the YouTube channel, and look through all the ‘playlists’, like Irish Fiction, Dude Books, Best Sellers, or Memoirs. That might be a good way to start as well.

Kimberly’s Fab5 Under-The-Radar Novels that are HUGE FOXED PAGE CROWD PLEASERS

There’s an episode on The Foxed Page for each of these underrated, yet highly recommended books.

 

Thanks Kimberly, for the interview and for making us better readers.

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