From viral sketch videos to late-night television, Lilly Singh is used to making people laugh. The Canadian entertainer, writer, and advocate has made her mark in the entertainment world. And while she’s still busy creating content and working on a number of projects, she’s also bringing a new focus to a different, more personal format: books.
Lilly is no stranger to the written word—she’s the New York Times Best-Selling author of How to Be a Bawse and Be a Triangle. But over the past few years, her love for reading has grown as she’s immersed herself in valuable self-help books, powerful intergenerational dramas, and lighthearted romantic comedies. “I used to read a lot when I was younger, and then there was a period of my life where I stopped reading because I convinced myself that it was too time-consuming and that I could watch things,” said Lilly. “And then I started my own book club called Lilly’s Library in an effort to not only highlight South Asian authors, but also to help get myself back into reading.”
Lilly’s Library, which started in 2021, is genre-diverse and aims to provide readers with new stories they can relate to or learn from.
In honor of our Audiobooks offering for Spotify Premium users debuting in the U.S. today, we spoke to Lilly about the medium, its capacity for representation, and why she’s so excited for more listeners to join in on the audiobooks journey.
What prompted you to start Lilly’s Library?
One reason was to shine a light on South Asian authors because I feel like they don’t get the spotlight they deserve. But also, so much of my life is about representation and I’ve mostly focused on the screen for that. I’ve always been an advocate of seeing characters and stories that are diverse onscreen. And sometimes I get frustrated at the lack of that.
I came across this book Tell Me How to Be and it became the first Lilly’s Library book. It’s a queer story, and the perspective is from a mother and a son. And me being a queer brown person, I’m always like, “Where are the queer brown people?” When I read that book, I was like, “Oh my God, this is so in-depth.” And the thoughts of these characters and the struggles that this family is going through, I’ve never seen on the screen. It was so real and it was so honest. And I realized that maybe the South Asian community, like me, don’t realize that their experiences—and what we’ve been waiting to see onscreen—are captured in books.
But another big part of it is I think there’s this misconception that people have to be South Asian in order to enjoy South Asian stories, and that is just not true. I grew up watching a whole bunch of content that didn’t have South Asians. I was still able to relate to it, or at the very least, learn something new. One in four people on this planet are South Asian, and I want to normalize that our stories can be relatable for you. And if they’re not, they will teach you something new. Either way, that’s a win-win situation.
With so much social, video, and audio content out there to consume, when do you instead turn to books?
I have been so pleasantly surprised—and punched by the reality—that books actually have phenomenal representation. Things I’m always wishing I saw onscreen, on social media, and other places, I’m finding in books. And that’s been really refreshing. The types of stories, characters, and problems that Lilly’s Library features are all so much more advanced than the ones I see onscreen.
And so I pick up a book when I want to relate to something. I want to be seen. I want to kind of escape into a story that feels safe. It’s also when I’m stressed, lonely, or feeling like my real life is a little too overwhelming and I want to dive into a different story.
You’re a published author. What made you want to write?
I got to a place where I wanted to tell a deeper story that was very detailed, and literature—for me—feels like a safer space to share some of those stories. I can talk about things in as much detail as I want. And I’ll just be completely honest: Some stories feel safer writing it. When your face is in a video, it can be tough to talk about things, but sometimes when you’re using words, you can hide in the beauty and safety of the pages. I feel writing allows you to go a little bit more vulnerable and deeper than you otherwise might.
You also narrated both audiobooks. What was it like to read your stories aloud?
I won’t lie, recording both of my audiobooks was one of the tougher experiences of my life because you are forced to read your writing out loud—and multiple times—when you’re recording. I was like, “Who wrote this? Who wrote it like this?”
But. . . it was also very therapeutic to actually hear my thoughts out loud and be forced to read it when I wasn’t in the editing process anymore. You can kind of get to relive your own story as an audience member when you’re doing that, and can disconnect in a way that lets you be more forgiving. I feel like, for the most part, I was able to have a level of compassion when listening to my story out loud that I probably didn’t have while I was writing and editing it.
Is there a book that’s had a big impact on you?
A book that really resonated with me is The Four Agreements. I love this book. It’s a very, very simple and practical guide to personal freedom. And it’s just well written and easy to understand. It was actually the inspiration for my second book, Be a Triangle. Anytime I’m struggling, I open that book and read a section of it. It’s been like a life resource for me.
What are some elements about audiobooks that you especially enjoy?
I really love holding a physical book, but I realized that I wasn’t always able to read as much as I wanted to because of that restriction. I can’t read in any moving vehicle or I will get extremely carsick. And I travel a lot.
I’ve also learned recently that some audiobooks actually enhance the book in a way that I can’t do when I’m reading it alone thanks to the voice performance. They make the book have so much more depth. For instance, I was listening to The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, and I was blown away that the voice actor does like 30 different voices in this audiobook. And they’re horrifying and beautiful and he does different accents. I was like, “Dude, I’ve been missing out on audiobooks!” That really got me to switch.
Share your favorite Lilly’s Library pick.
There are a lot of really good options. There’s a book called At Least You Have Your Health by Madi Sinha. I like this book because it made me laugh and it was a nice read. But what I really liked was the subject matter. It’s a commentary on the women’s health sector and is about how understudied women’s bodies are. The book is done in a very, very smart way.
How do you determine which stories make it into the club?
So the Lilly’s Library mandate is pretty simple: The book has to be written by a South Asian author. One of the powers of the South Asian community and culture is that it’s very founded on the family unit, and so a lot of the books are the mother’s perspective, then the daughter’s perspective, then the grandmother’s perspective. And our goal is that families can read these books together and talk about it. So my mom actually has read every Lilly’s Library book with us. Our conversations with each other are much more in-depth now because when we discuss a book, inevitably we discuss life and why those choices didn’t resonate with us, or whatever it is. And so it’s just been really awesome to have our relationship evolve through the help of books and the library. And that’s what I really hope for other people as well.