By Locke Hughes

Lupita Aquino can still recall the first book she remembers reading: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. She also clearly remembers how different she was from the characters in the novel. “I remember being really young and realizing, This isn’t for me. These characters don’t share my experiences,” she tells us.

Born in Mexico and raised in Maryland, Lupita has always loved books, reading whatever she could get her hands on growing up. But that formative experience stuck with her, and as she got older, her passion for books evolved into advocacy for writers of color. As she began to find characters that did share her experiences as a Latinx woman on the page, she understood the power of seeing yourself reflected on the page — and she’s made it her mission to empower others to experience that for themselves.

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Today, the Maryland-based clinical research professional shares her book (and craft beer) picks with her 14,000 followers on Instagram, leads a book club in D.C., and serves as a judge for the Book of the Month Club. Much like Lupita, Book of the Month makes it their mission to amplify the voices of debut and diverse authors, so it’s no wonder the two have joined forces.

Lucky for us, Lupita recently made time to chat with us about her favorite books, what she’s currently reading, and how she makes time to read in her busy schedule.

How have books influenced your life so far?

Books have more than influenced my life — they have changed it for the better. I went from reading and discussing books on my own, to leading a group of readers in discussions about books, and later, coming up with questions to interview authors I long admired. Books have helped me connect with book lovers all over the city. Books made this interview possible!

After starting my Instagram, my love of books boomed into a whole different thing — it went from passion to advocacy. Now that I’m diving into books that do share my experiences and I see myself reflected on the pages, I’ve become passionate about that. It’s really healing. It’s like free therapy. I want everyone to experience what it’s like to see yourself reflected on a page.

What do you mean by being an advocate?

I’ve noticed there’s a gap — only a select few stories that get out there are from writers of color. Maybe three or four a year compared to the thousands of books that are released. Not that the writers aren’t there; they just get buried. They get under-publicized. So I’m trying to speak up for those who don’t get as much love from the publishers.

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Besides books, beer also appears frequently on your Instagram.

When I started my Instagram, I was job hunting, and I got really into pairing books with beer — whether it’s flavor profiles, or when a can design matches a cover. It feels really good to have a book with a beer — a really refreshing beer. It just stuck.

How do you find new books to read?

Book of the Month is one of my favorite ways to find new books to read. As a BOTM Judge, I have the honor of selecting from a curated list of upcoming new books, which I know will be page turners because the editorial director, Siobhan Jones, has phenomenal taste in literature.

I also love discovering new books via “Book Twitter” and “Bookstagram.” On Twitter, I love following editors who have the same taste in literature as I do, so I closely follow to see what book they are working on next!

What are you reading right now?

I am currently reading Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Las Cosas Que Perdimos en el Fuego (Things We Lost in the Fire) by Mariana Enríquez.

Why do you read?

I read to learn, grow, escape, and connect with others.

What types of books do you connect with personally?

I personally connect with books about families with complex characters and the exploration of humanity’s thin line between good and evil.

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What book have you read recently that surprised you in some way?

PET by Awaeke Emezi, Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett and The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus are books that surprised me in the sense that they opened my eyes to all the work young adult novelists are doing to normalize and showcase the wealth of diversity that exists among us. I used to think YA novels were only meant for the youth. I was so very wrong!

You also co-founded LIT on H Street, a monthly book club. What inspired you to start a book club?

Before Solid State [an independent bookstore in D.C.] first opened, the event director at the time reached out to me and Jamise from @spinesvines to discuss what gaps in literary events that we saw as readers in the D.C. community. We both immediately said a book club. At the time we hadn’t seen a book club that focused on highlighting works of literature by women of color. So in pitching that idea as a gap in the D.C. literary community, we were actually pitching the creation of LIT on H St.

Who’s your favorite literary character and why?

Emoni Santiago from With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo because she reminds me of the women in my family: resilient, vulnerable, hopeful, phenomenal mothers and humans.

What’s your “reading routine?”

I’m a “read-whenever-you-can” type of reader. I do most of my reading in the evenings and during the weekends. After our son goes to bed around 7 p.m., I curl up on the couch with a book while my wife watches one of her favorite shows (shoutout to The Great British Bake Off). I’ll read until at least 10 p.m. or later, depending on how hooked I am on a book! I don’t often stay up late but occasionally a book will hook me and I’ll end up reading until 12-1 AM (shout out to In the Dream House for making me late to work last week). If we decide to head out and run errands, I’ll take my book with me in case I find a minute or two to read.

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What are your tips for people looking to read more?

My biggest tip would be to have your book close by as often as possible — carry it everywhere! Also, don’t think about it as a task. Make sure it feels unforced and doable to you. If reading in bed for 20 to 30 minutes feels doable for you, start there and slowly increase it. Also, make sure the book you are reading is working for you — if it’s not engaging you, pick up something else! And no matter what the format — Kindles, audiobooks, hard copies — it counts!

What’s your general philosophy about self-care?

I personally think self-care is essential, but it looks different for everyone. Some are able to self-care with massages or trips abroad, while others can employ breathing methods and meditation. I think that’s what makes self-care so special.

Self-care for me looks like going on a run during which I practice focusing on my breathing. It’s a time when I feel a million thoughts moving through my brain and let them float in and out, emptying my brain of them. Reading is also the biggest way I take care of myself, especially at the end of a long day. I let myself escape into a different world! This evening I’ll be on a berm in Liguria, Italy with Elio and Oliver.

QUICK PICKS

1. One book or multiple at a time?
I prefer to read one book at a time but always end up reading multiple at a time.

2. E-book, audiobook, or hard copy?
Hard copy

3. What are some favorite books you’ve read recently?

4. Any books you’d recommend for the GNI audience in the fall?

What are you reading this Bookish Girl Fall? Let us know in the comments, then try your first month of Book of the Month for just $9.99.

Photographed by Maya Oren.