Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman Wrote a Big Best Seller

Book Review|Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman Wrote a Big Best Seller

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Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman Wrote a Big Best Seller
The 10-year bond between Ann Friedman, left, and Aminatou Sow has weathered worse than a little social distance.Credit...Milan Zrnic

IT TAKES TWO Adult friendships are hard. Maintaining adult friendships across forced social distance is harder.

But the 10-year bond between Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman has weathered worse. The co-hosts of “Call Your Girlfriend” (“a podcast for long-distance besties everywhere”) have lived on opposite coasts for longer than they lived in the same city. Things once got so bad, they write in their debut book, “Big Friendship” — which entered the hardcover nonfiction list last week at No. 11 — they went to “couples therapy.”

It worked, and then the pandemic hit. “Unlike a lot of friendships that are strained in quarantine, ours is more used to the rhythm of being far apart,” Sow said over the phone from her home in Brooklyn. “We are practicing what we are preaching when it comes to trying to stay close to each other, but the longer quarantine goes on, the more the anxiety really sets in.”

“Your friends are your daily emotional support system,” Friedman said from L.A., “and now you’re unable to see them in person, even if they aren’t far away.” Writing this book in 2019, they couldn’t have imagined the resonance their underlying question would have in 2020: What is the value of having a chosen family, and how do you sustain it over time as each member — and the world — evolves?

Of course, the distances that can arise between friends are not just physical. Sow is Black; Friedman white. “White people in particular want to believe that our relationships are somehow insulated from these bigger forces,” Friedman said. “Yes, we recognize racism exists in the world, but we are really connected, and somehow special, or safe from those dynamics.” Only once you realize that’s not true, she said, can you have an honest dialogue across color lines.

To white people who are unsure how to talk to their Black friends about race, “Big Friendship” offers guidance, and a wake-up call. “There is no way to be intimately close with people if you refuse to engage in the truth of how the world is organized,” Sow said. “For a lot of people conversations about race are new. Most of those people I would venture to guess are white.”

As for the book’s success, the authors expressed gratitude and disbelief, while acknowledging how privileged they are to already have a large audience. “Publishing is 100 percent a casino,” Sow said. “It would serve everybody well for all of the systems that enable success in publishing to be more transparent.”

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