Book Clubs: Reading with Friends

That perfect tranquillity of life, which is nowhere to be found but in retreat, a faithful friend and a good library.
-Aphra Behn, 17th Century poet, playwright and novelist.

This is a picture  from December with my book club of thirty some years (with the addition of a visiting club). It was also my first book club appearance as an author. There is nothing like being in the warm company of friends who have read your book and want to talk deeply about your process and choices. This is mana for writers, the conversation that comes full circle, from the mind of the writer, to the characters on the page, to the experience of the reader–because all writing and reading is a conversation, often out in the ether, thousands of miles away, two minds connecting in the imaginative space of the story. And in this particular case, I was surrounded by friends who had been on the same journey, reading and diving deep into our experiences as readers over the decades.

When I joined our club, I had certain reading habits that were serving me well enough–filling out my experience with the classics and enjoying the machinations and intrigues of John Le Carré’s spy world. I’m sure there were others, but thirty years is a long time enough, let alone prior to that. I had waited a year to be admitted to this club that held to the strict limit of ten women, many of whom were already my friends. The rule was that we would each pick a book for one month, leaving the longer tomes for the summer. And fiction only. When I reflect on my experience over the years, I am in awe of two things: one, the extraordinary range of literature that found me, and the deep analysis and appreciation of the written word that has grown in everyone of us over the years. We’ve read magnificent books, easy, enjoyable reads that didn’t really stick in our memories, and a few stinkers that did.  It’s the way it works.

For the past few years,  we get together in January with recommendations from reviews, friends and family, and come to a consensus on the books we’ll read for the year. This is working for us right now. We’re going to read some old ones and some new ones this year. I’ve listed the books below.

Reading and discussing books was my impetus to write. Reading good literature continues to inform and teach me about writing. I will be learning until there is no time left to read.

In the meantime, I would love to continue the conversation about The Genuine Stories with other book clubs. I split my time between Iowa and San Diego, and frequently visit Dallas and Philadelphia to visit family.

I can arrange to come to your book club and talk when I’m in your area, but I’ve also started a schedule for Skype/Google Hangouts  for places I can’t get to. Shoot me an email and I will put your group on my calendar.

 

Our Book Club Picks for 2019

  • Normal People, by Sally Rooney
  • The King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
  • Americana by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • The Bone Rattler by Eliot Pattison
  • The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  • The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim (We are hoping Eugenia will Skype in for our meeting)
  • There There: A Novel by Tommy Orange

Wishing you a very happy year of reading.

 

 

The Stone Wall

“After we had the pond filled in, I built this wall to separate that spot from the garden..
I found the cherub at a yard sale. It reminded me of him.”

As the year  works its way to a close, our house is littered with the trappings of Christmas just past:  empty boxes, bits of wrapping that eluded the pick up, piles of small items emptied from someone’s stocking, books, coats, boots, and hats. Mittens and gloves everywhere. Grown children and grandchildren spiraling in and out of our house, the nerve center. There is an unending Sisyphean urge to manage the ball of chaos, fully knowing it will roll down the hill quicker than lightning. If I could put a border around the mess I would.  But at this moment,  while the grandchildren are enjoying each other at another location and the house exudes a preternatural silence, I have a little time to think. And write. I imagine I’m wearing a dog cone and wall out the mess, at least metaphorically.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about walls. It’s hard not to. The notion of walls never leaves the news cycle. Walls and fences. Borders and lines. A line in the sand. Beyond a border.

I have written about backyard fences to keep children in,  gates to keep the curious out, a stone wall to help a mother heal from her greatest loss. Characters are walled off from each other by illness, class, desire, temperament, and even magical ability.  But as characters (and real  people) evolve throughout the stories of our lives, we  tend to seek ways to break the barriers down. It is the coming together that soothes us. Our best natures are to grow towards one another, not apart. Despite the brouhaha, everyone, at some point, realizes this.

I have some personal  goals  for the coming year: to finish my PhD, to dance well at our daughter’s wedding, to take more walks with my husband, and to write more stories about Genuine. These are not resolutions, just desires to follow. And while I can hope there will be no barriers to the realization of these goals, I also know I might need to open the gate to other possibilities.

Wishing everyone steps of progress toward your goals in 2019 and a life wide open to  unsolicited surprises.

Happy New Year.

From The Stone Wall

Kate sat, head bowed. Genuine stood and walked up and down the length of the wall. Finally, she stopped in front of her so that Kate had to look up.
“You’re going to be okay,” Genuine said, picking up the cherub.
Kate stood.
“But you need to take down the wall.”

 

 

 

 

 

Cold Weather, Warm People

Winter whipped itself into the state last week,  from 44 to 18 overnight with wind to drag the feel of it to nearly zero. Despite thirty-seven years of Iowa living, it never fails to surprise me. I can prepare, I can wear the appropriate clothing, but I can’t anticipate the shock of the first cold bite of wind across my cheek. On this particular anxiety ridden, somewhat sleep deprived morning, I found myself dismayingly gloveless and scraping ice off my car in a hotel parking lot, chipping away at the spare minutes I’d built into my drive to a live TV interview about my book. I’d forgotten about the ice that appears overnight even without causal precipitation.  There is certainly a scientific explanation. But that’s well outside my purview.

Lately, I’m more interested in precipitating anxiety and all its little fluxuations. Like the weather, I presume it to be causal. A set of conditions=weather variations. A different set of conditions=personal anxiety or self-doubt. But, like ice on the windshield, the causal factors are sometimes invisible.

Two days earlier, I’d had a book launch party for The Genuine Stories, where I read and answered questions and received an astonishing amount of love and good feeling, the only kind that can come from one’s close community of friends and family (even the nine year old listened!). On Sunday, I drove to Des Moines to spend the night, feeling a certain warm afterglow and nary a hair of  internal barometric variance. I was good to go. Or so I thought. Apparently good to go didn’t mean good to sleep. 

I’m a storyteller, so it’s no surprise to me that my mind itself can make up its own narrative. And the observing writer in me can engage in a counter narrative. After all, what could really go wrong in a fifteen minute interview?

Midnight. First alert.

Mind: You will forget the interviewers names.

Me: That’s ridiculous. They have little plaques. (I watched others being interviewed ahead of time).

Mind: No they don’t. That’s just what shows up on the screen.

Me: It’s midnight. Go to sleep.

Second rally. 3 AM

Mind: Hey, are you sure you brought the right clothes?

Me: Shut up and go to sleep.

Mind: What are the interviewers names?

Me: Turns on the phone and looks up CW Iowa Live. Jackie and Lou.

Final call. 4:30 AM

Mind: I’m ready to get up.

Me: It’s pitch black and I need more sleep.

Mind: I think you’re going to talk too much. You’re going to interrupt their questions. You do that all the time.

Me: Okay. Fair point. I’ll keep that in mind. Oh, that’s you. Okay, hold on to that thought while I go back to sleep. I need more sleep.

Mind: You know you won’t. But that’s fine. We can lay here together and talk.

Me: About WHAT?

Mind: Oh, you know, anything. Everything. By the way, do you think that red sweater was the right choice?

Me: It’s too late now. It’s all I brought.

Mind: I know. I was just pulling your chain.

Me:

Mind: I’m still here. What are the interviewers names?

Me:

Mind: Hello?

Despite Mind’s view of things, there was no need for anxiety. Jackie Schmillen and Lou Sipolt were amazingly warm and friendly. And brilliant. They read a short intro from the producer while I was getting mic’d up, and from there the interview flowed as if they’d read my life story and were exposing the most salient bits to their viewers. And we laughed! But I shouldn’t be surprised– this is Iowa, a state filled with warm people.  I didn’t feel cold for the rest of the day.

Click this for a link to the interview.