Episode 26: Josiah Duff | Gathering a Non-Fiction Library

On this week’s dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, our guest is my local friend and book enthusiast, Josiah Duff. Josiah’s hard to put in a box and wears many hats, everything from project manager to hip hop artist. He’s driven, creative, and deep. He enjoys reading and writing non-fiction, especially about faith and personal development. I love how his reading style is so different from mine! I’m excited to share with you his thoughts and ideas today.

Josiah on Instagram @brosiah_duff

KingdomWired Blog

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Today's guest, Josiah Duff 

Many of my guests have told stories about early childhood books that hooked them on reading, but Josiah's reading genesis was at a different moment. He credits his post-graduation reading of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis as igniting his interest in literature and non-fiction books. 

He now enjoys reading about personal development, personal finance, and faith. For example, he recently purchased  The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey  and has also enjoyed The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Josiah is usually reading several books at a time, selecting chapters from the table of contents that attract his attention. "I use my books like a library." He goes to books to glean information and get insight on a particular topic. But that's not always how he's done it. Speaking of the way he used to read, he said, "I figured if they wrote it down they obviously want someone to read it." After many unfinished books, he was inspired by A Mind for Numbers which talks about how to read and learn better, which contributed to his current approach.  

Books mentioned on Josiah's shelf: 

Books mentioned on Laura's shelf: 
Spanish Textbooks
Books about relationships, faith, and apologetics 

For me, I find myself challenged at finishing non-fiction books, because the plot doesn't pull me all the way through like I prefer fiction books to do. However, I am also a person that, if I am insecure or looking for advice on a topic, my first thought it what book I might turn to for advice. 

We discussed several books and resources involving Christian Apologetics: 

We talked about the nature of truth and how "What is truth?" is a super relevant, but also uncomfortable question that remains pivotal. We went down a bit of a rabbit hole there, but I think that it's a perfect illustration of one of my favorite (and probably paraphrased) quotes by Anne Bogel: "Books are a shortcut to talking about things that are truly important."
I brought up A Place for Us by Fatima Mirza, which was a beautifully written book, but I felt like it was rather hopeless and found myself wondering how different the story would be if they had faith and hope in Jesus.  But then again, I quipped, "Conflict drives narrative forward. If everyone just communicated like adults, told the truth, had healthy relationships and had strong faith....there wouldn't be a story. It would be boring. To make the drama, people have to do knuckleheaded things." 

Josiah asked what non-fiction book or books I have enjoyed reading. I enjoy memoir and biography non-fiction. I like to read people's stories and sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. I also enjoyed recently Get Out of Your Head by Jeannie Allen and Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel. Both of these books are written by women, for women, and have a pink or "girly" cover! But I feel like the subject matter of these books is really relatable and transferrable. That was just fine with Josiah; he actually doesn't mind books written for a different audience, such as women. "This is the other team's playbook, and I'm taking notes," he said. "And decision making is not uniquely female. Just hearing that same message from a different perspective enriches my life a little bit deeper." 

Talking about books that caught Josiah's attention recently, he mentioned almost buying a book by Blaise Pascal. He's the one who came up with Pascal's Wager.  (see diagram below.) He also came across the Book of Virtues in a bookstore and considered buying it as well. I was excited to hear that book mentioned because we read that book for school! 

diagram of Pascal's Wager 

When he's looking for "the right book," Josiah is looking for topics of importance to him, that catch his attention,  or where the author or book has received accolades from other names he recognizes, if it's been referenced by another author, or that have stood the test of time. 

This has lead him to be interested in reading classics as well. "I mean, if it stands the test of time, I think it's obviously worth reading. And I want to be able to say I read a classic. They're classics for a reason." For example, Josiah read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. "I didn't realize how scandalous his writings were until I read The Picture of Dorian Gray," he said. 

This conversation led us down the rabbit hole of Jane Austen, which are an example of classics that I didn't read or love in school. But they're growing on me. I'm half-way done reading Persuasion now!  I have enjoyed film adaptations (Pride and Prejudice, the BBC Pride and Prejudice, the Lizzy Bennett Diaries vlog series, the new Emma movie...etc.) and fiction adaptations (Unmarriageable, Ayesha at Last, and Katherine Reay's adaptations). We talked about Austen's influence on the world of romance books and her novel sense of humor in the mundane. 

After describing the Elizabeth/Darcy trope, Josiah said that was pretty much the plot of 10 Things I Hate About You :)  He then asked me the hugely controversial question of which Pride and Prejudice movie is the best. Readers, I want to know your thoughts in the comments below! Then tune in at minute 39 on the podcast to hear my long and non-committal answer! 

I also talked about my experience of seeing the new Little Women adaptation and then reading the book because I enjoy it so much. The movie wrecked me because I didn't know the plot. So much for always knowing the plot of classics! 

Josiah also enjoys writing. He's working on self-publishing a book about Jesus from the perspective of the the disciple who loved him and Gospel-writer John. It's coming soon, so watch out for more details! For this book, Josiah's been thinking about who Jesus said that he was. He has drawn inspiration from Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus also revealed himself and his identity in the book of John in a unique way. Jesus either is a "liar, lunatic, or Lord" according to C.S. Lewis. 

Josiah has been blogging as well, mainly for kingdomwired.org, which you can check out here. 

I asked Josiah, "It’s been a crazy few months as the cultural spotlight has increasingly been focused on anti-racism. This is a huge and important conversation. Do you have any book recommendations or words of wisdom as our communities walk through these difficult topics? I’m interested in your perspective." 

His response was great, and I won't be able to fully capture it here. But a few key points: 
  • What the black community is looking for is acknowledgement instead of being dismissed. They are hoping that the white community will hear their plea. At lot of it gets ignored for various reasons. But racial profiling and backhanded compliments are real and a daily occurance. Subtle prejudice has been normalized. 
  • We have all learned a lot in the last few months. 
  • Josiah gave an example of backhanded compliments: "Oh you speak so well!"...you mean, "you speak so well, for a black man?!" and said this is a daily reality for him. 
  • Racism happens because we live in a fallen world. It will always be here until Jesus comes back. We are all in the image of God, and racism is a sin of partiality. 
  • Several things in the Black Lives Matter cause Josiah to pause, especially their ideology and the substance behind the message (or lack thereof) compared to the Civil Rights movement. 
  • We can't just say, "Jesus is the answer" and the solution to racism. While it is, the best thing to do is to engage people in a dialog. There's room to create conversation. Conversations are truly what change people's minds.
  • He encouraged us to call out racism when you see it. Josiah shared a story about being in a group of 5 or 6 where he was the only Black American in the room and they were throwing around a racial slur. At the time, his response was, "that's still a slur."  Josiah was glad that he called them out, but in hindsight, he would go back and ask a question instead, because "As soon as you make a statement, people get defensive. whereas a question opens up the floor for dialog." He would probably go back and say, "Why do you think that's okay?" or "Why do you think that's okay to say around me?" From then on, that's the approach he's been using. After asking a question and after finding out what the other person's thoughts are, he can share his own thoughts and connect the truth of the gospel to the issue of racism.
  • Recommended Reading: 
    • Advocates by Dhati Lewis
    • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass - I don't think enough people recognize that Fredrick Douglass was born a slave and then rose to be one of the most photographed and recognized black men. He became a national leader and educated himself. Be patient enough to get through the entire thing. 
    • Malcom X - Josiah said he pauses when recommending Malcom X because he's militant, but he is also part of the context of the movement toward equality, just a different path than MLK. 

I recently read The Night Watch by Terry Pratchett and it's "good weird" and "fascinating" and "breaks all the laws of time travel." After our conversation, I thought Josiah might find it an interesting read.  It's got some delibrarations on policing and racism, but I don't feel as defensive about it because it's couched in the terms of a fantasy world. "That sounds just weird enough for me to get into," said Josiah.  (Other Pratchett books mentioned - Mort, Witches Abroad, and the Tiffany Aching books.)  

I also recommended Lovely War, which I recently read and loved. It's got WWI history combined with Greek mythology, and black jazz musician soldiers, and...so many other good threads. Josiah then said that I need to put American Gods by Neil Gaiman on my list, which brought up that I read and enjoyed The Graveyard Book

I wanted to make sure that Josiah knew about Little Free Libraries, like the one I have in my yard. I said, "I could just see you pulling up the map and visiting a few on your travels. It's like a bookstore, but they're tiny and they're all free books!" And his response was priceless! "Hold up. Laura, are you telling me there's a map of all of these? This is a game changer. I am about to go on a raid in Kansas City. It's about to happen!" So...If you didn't know, you go to the Little Free Library website and search their Map yourself.

Josiah asked me if I had an unlimited budget to put one book in Little Free Libraries around the country, what book would I choose? Such a hard question, but I ended up choosing The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.  It's one of my favorites that I won't shut up about. It is meaningful and enjoyable. 

"Time flies when we're talking about books, I swear." 

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Library Laura podcast! Drop us more book recommendations, comments, or questions in the comments below or come find us on Instagram.

Until next time, with lots of literary love from my library to yours! 



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Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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