Tip of the Day: Go to Author Events

I love going to author events. I especially love going with friends, but have no qualms going by myself and often do.

Last year, I took my mom to a reading by an author we both love at a bookstore around the corner from her office. As we settled into our seats, she confessed, “I’ve never been to one of these before.” At a recent book club, where I often harass members by posting local author events on our club’s Facebook page, someone asked, “How do you even know about these?” My mom, the book club, these are all avid readers. I forget that I might be the only book nerd in the group who constantly stalks the four area independent bookstores (we are so blessed in the Triangle area of NC with options) and their listings of readings, launches, and other events. This year alone I have seen Anna Quindlen, Tayari Jones, Sally Hepworth in conversation with Barbara Claypole White, and Christina Baker Kline in conversation with Therese Anne Fowler. And there have been so many more that I had to miss due to scheduling conflicts.

Author events are a wonderful opportunity to listen to writers talk about writing books to people who love reading books. It’s a match made in heaven. You can ask your burning questions about process, research, and that pesky character you became obsessed with, or simply listen to a passage of the book in the voice the author imagined in their heads. You can buy the book (or several) from your independent book seller and have it signed. By the author. For yourself or as a gift. You can say something embarrassing (Sarah Gruen) or pedestrian (Anna Quindlen) or gushing (too many to count) to the writer as they sign your book. They may even tell you an interesting tidbit (Wiley Cash) when you share your own interesting fact related to their research. You can even meet interesting people while waiting in line – like the time I met local cookbook author Brigid Washington (does her book not look AMAZING?!) and ended up having a lovely chat about writing, motherhood, the myth of balance, and our shared love for the author we were seeing.

Yesterday, in my son’s second grade class, they participated in a virtual visit with David A. Kelly, author of the Ballpark Mysteries, the MVP series, and Miracle Mud. He talked process, inspiration, the importance of revision, persistence, practice, and genre. The kids loved it. They asked questions, they were excited, they were engaged. They suddenly had a real life visual of how a book comes to be and the face behind the name on the cover of the book sitting on their nightstands.img_0718.jpg

At first, I thought how wonderful it would be if this interaction inspired them to writing careers. But now, I think how wonderful if it inspires them to support writers by attending author events throughout their lives. All because they had an early experience with a writer in an accessible and fun way. After all, writers are just people. People who love books. Just like you.

So check your local paper, follow your area bookstores on social media, sign-up for your favorite author’s newsletters and see when they will be coming to your area. And go to author events!

I’ll see you there!

High Heeled Mama Reads: The Same Sky, Amanda Eyre Ward

First off, this book reviewing business is harder than I thought. Reading is my go to. My solace. My boredom buster. My company in the quiet moments (what are those again?). So I read. A lot. And there is so much other life happening that it can be hard to find the time and think through all I want to say about a book for you. A reader. A reader who deserves a thoughtful account in order to determine whether they want to spend their precious few quiet moments in the heads and hearts of a particular character or plot. And it’s hard to know what to say that might convey that and then time goes by and I’ve lost any real intelligent thought about the books I’ve finished. So, I will not abandon the effort, but let me just say I will save it for those about which I truly have something to say.

Which brings me to The Same Sky.

The Same Sky follows two parallel, yet seemingly unrelated stories – a nice device, actually, to keep you sucked in. Just how will these two disparate story lines merge? You know they have to, somewhere, somehow, or else what was the point? And so you keep following Carla, a Honduran child, abandoned by the adults in her life and trying to keep her and her younger brother alive; and Alice, a woman struggling with her inability to have children juxtaposed against the giant need for them while navigating an adoption system and process that has only led her and her husband to soul crushing disappointment. Add in some Texas barbecue, local Austin color, a horrifying trek across Mexico in an attempt to enter the United States and we’re talking beauty. Beauty in the ashes of the lives of two women, both still girls in many ways, both aged beyond their years in others, both navigating the world motherless, both wanting nothing but to believe in hope and to find that they are enough.

I want to write books like this. I find Amanda Eyre Ward‘s dialogue brilliant. Never too much. And what her characters do say? Boy, does it pack a punch. She has the unique ability of using simplicity to tell complex, emotionally fraught, horrifying at times tales. It’s a neat little trick and one I wish I could master. She tells you just enough, letting her reader fill in any necessary blanks, never lingering too long anywhere, but jam packing every paragraph, sentence, word with a sincerity and meaning that allowed the story to sit with me, whole and burning, in my mind and soul long after I put the book down. Alice and Carla are real to me. I picture them in their respective post-book lives. I wonder about them and imagine what their future holds. I hope the best for them.

The Same Sky is all you want in a story – heart-wrenching and true and an odyssey and a love story and an epiphany and home and loss and family and ending in hope, which is such a central theme to this story. Hope in the face of hopelessness, fighting for hope, hope that there is, in fact, hope somewhere, redeeming hope and hope redeemed.

I give this book five glorious stars out of five.

(When you finish this one, go read Forgive Me).

High Heeled Mama Reads: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a story of a young Nigerian girl emigrating to the United States for a university education and the promise of a better life.

Americanah is a love story of two young lovers separated by distance, pursuing their dreams however they can until disillusionment with the results brings them face-to-face again to face their old and future feelings.

Americanah is a story about race in America. In Britain. In Nigeria.

Americanah is a Wizard of Oz story about how you don’t always need to go over the rainbow to find what you want, sometimes you need to simply recognize the desires inside you and have the strength to make them so despite the cultural, familial and familiar obligations that surround you.

Americanah is a story about place. A story where place is more a character than a setting.

Americanah is the type of story that you can’t put in a box. The book’s brilliance lies in its ability to tell a story about race, globalization, global tensions, discrimination, immigration, academic life, materialism as success and self discovery through the story of two young Nigerians. At the outset, they are young and in love and hungry for life beyond their school and family. But somewhere along the lines, their actions to seek out a better future, still put them on paths to adult mediocrity. Dreams are muddled, confused, waylaid. Ethics are compromised in order to stay the course. Their love for each other becomes just another part of a past that must be compartmentalized, packed away, in order to focus on the more urgent needs of the now.

Americanah is about voice. Reading this novel this winter while the country seems to be shining a light on the fact that the Civil Rights Movement and the election of the first black president did not solve all the country’s institutionalized racism, not to mention the personalized racism, was particularly poignant. Ifemelu, the young woman in the story, starts a blog to comment on race in America. I found her posts to be fascinating, eye opening and brilliant. I found myself wishing it were real so I could hop online and read them all up. Alas, fiction.

What I loved nearly as much as the book was finding Adiche’s TED talk afterwards about the danger of single story. The point being that her work no more defines Nigeria or Nigerians as American Psycho defines all young adult males (her example). Just as her fictional character’s experiences and blog are only an individual’s perspective, we must open our eyes to all that we can to find empathy and understanding.

I found this idea of a single story to be so personally relevant – we are all more than mothers or wives or sisters or workers. We are a culmination of roles and passions and cultures and childhood experiences and tastes. I think this single story concept defines the very reason why the mommy wars perpetuate – the word mother means something to me and something different to you and something absolutely opposite to that lady over there. Yet, for some reason, many of us seek to put motherhood in a box that means all one thing or another and any mother not fitting in the box provided is therefore doing it wrong. We can’t fall prey to the single story. There are many stories, many experiences, many challenges all leading to truths. Yes. Plural. My truth and your truth are both valid even if sometimes contradictory. Accepting the multitude of truths and stories is the only way we can all move forward to improve our communities, families and selves.

In a nutshell: Read the book. Listen to the talk. Then, go forth and find more stories.

I give this book 4.5 out of 5.

 

Have you read Americanah? What were your thoughts? Share them in the comments.

Coming up, Before I Go by Colleen Oakley and At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen.

High Heeled Mama Reads: “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies tells the story of three kindergarten moms as we, the reader, try to unravel exactly what happened and to whom at the school trivia night fundraiser. We know from the outset that someone dies. We know that it is highly suspicious. And that’s all. We don’t know who died. We don’t know who did it. We don’t know much beyond the fact that everyone – through the highly effective device of witness statements and police comments – thinks they know everything only for us to realize that no one knows anything.

In actuality, Big Little Lies is a story of three kindergarten moms: Madeline, Celeste and Jane. It’s a story about moms. About women. About female friendships. About marriage. About the politics of school. Because it’s a contemporary novel about women and women’s issues, I’m sure it could fall into the chick lit category. Let me first say, I hate this term. I don’t hate books labeled chick lit – there are some damn fine books and authors that get slapped with this marketing label – I hate the term. The insinuation that a book about women is only for women. That a book that tackles contemporary topics and female relationships somehow needs relegating to its own genre. Contemporary fiction seems classification enough. But I don’t think I’ll be shaking up any marketing departments at the publishing houses with this admonition, so consider that just my own personal gift of thought. In actuality, I can already tell you my own work-in-progress would probably qualify as chick lit (spoiler, it’s about modern women, some of them are mothers, some of them have relationships, ACK!) and if it ever makes it to publication, I’ll be more than happy to have it marketed in any way that sells it. </end rant>

What Ms. Moriarty does so well in this book is make a story about day-to-day events seem compelling and intriguing and rooted in mystery simply by sharing with us up front the periphery of a tragic event in the open and then unraveling the truth of the story from the beginning, six months prior. Similar to The Husband’s Secret, Moriarty deftly switches perspectives between several key female characters. The reader gets a little peak into each of their lives, allowing us to add up as many pieces as we can, but creating a pace that only slowly reveals the actual truth. In addition to the changed perspective, Moriarty employs the use of these witness statements at the end of most chapters using the supporting cast’s perceptions to create doubt, suspicion, misdirection and often a bit of comic relief.

This book was a page turner for me. Just as I’d finish up a chapter and think, I’ll turn off the light after this one, a witness’s absurd observation would propel me straight into the next chapter. I did have one element of the book figured out, but Moriarty does a fine job of keeping us guessing throughout about who died, who did it and why. The end result is never what we expect, but I found the denouement satisfying without being cliche or trite.

If you’re a mom with elementary aged kids, I’d definitely recommend it. I think you’ll recognize a lot of the PTA politics and relate to any number of the moms in the story. If you’re a person who likes a subtle mystery sprinkled with a healthy dose of levity, this is also a book for you.

I’d give this a solid 4 out of 5.

What about you? Did you read Big Little Lies? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments. Next up: A review of Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Another mystery, but oh so different from this one.

 

High Heeled Mama Reads

My name is Monica and I am a bibliophile. I love books. L.O.V.E. I hate when my night table is devoid of a book. I feel lonely and unmoored. I get giddy if an author responds to a tweet after I’ve gushed about their work online. They are my rock stars. I take recommending books to people seriously, knowing that books are so personal and so wanting to make the right match between friend and book. I have loved joining the Goodreads community to see what friends are reading, delving into chats about books with old college friends that have been surprising and enlightening, and seeing what folks are loving or leaving behind.

As the year ended and I compiled my list of books read in 2014 and realized what a truly excellent year it was on my bookshelf, I thought, why not share that love with the larger community. I know many of you are avid readers, too, and maybe we can have a space here where we share and discuss and breathe in deeply the boundless options of books at our disposal. Let me be clear, I am not starting an online book club. I will simply share the books I’m reading, perhaps an observation or two, and invite you to share your thoughts and recommendations so we can expand our bookshelves together.

I do love books, but not necessarily book reviews, or more specifically writing reviews. I certainly don’t mind reading others reviews. I read for the sheer pleasure of it and the pressure of writing a well thought out review seems a bit too much like high school English class and sometimes colors my reading. That being said, I would like to get better about voicing what I do like, or not, about a book. After all, as I’m writing one, it’s a necessary analytical exercise to understand what does and doesn’t work. So I will use this space as my trial ground in the book review space. And if it doesn’t work, well, you can find me somewhere reading. No harm done! With this bad head cold keeping me couch bound in the early days of the new year, I’ve already finished two books in 2015 and have started number three. That’s fast even for me! I’ll be posting some thoughts about them soon.

In the meantime, I came across this Reading Challenge list on Popsugar and thought I’d share it for inspiration for your own 2015 booklists. I intend to keep an eye on this list throughout the year to see how I do, but will certainly not use it as my only guide for choosing books this year. After all, there are just so many to choose from!

So grab your Kindle, library card or keys and drive straight to your local, independent bookstore and let’s get to reading!

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
― Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life (which I just added to my “To Read” list!).

A Love Letter (of Sorts)

Although I sat down at my desk this morning to focus on the work in progress, I found myself browsing Etsy for my father’s Christmas gift and then scrolling through my Facebook feed. Writers are excellent procrastinators (or at least this one is). While scanning Facebook, I came across the Literary Mama journal prompt for today. Since I had actually started a post about books and reading last week, I thought I’d dust it off, finish it up and share it. Finalizing and ordering my impossible to shop for father’s gift and getting some writing done, even if it wasn’t what I intended…that’s some pretty productive procrastination, if I do say so myself.

******************************************************************

I fell in love with books as a kid. I devoured them. I couldn’t get enough. Beverly Cleary, the Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Choose Your Own Adventures, C.S. Lewis, Little Women, E.B. White, Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High, fairy tales, Where the Red Fern Grows…. I had the shelves of our local library memorized, able to hone in on the section or book I wanted within minutes, scanning for new covers, returned titles, old favorites. Stepping into the cramped space of the book mobile in the busy Food Lion parking lot on a Saturday morning was like stepping into another world where I was envious of the driver who got to spend time with so many books and the strangely intoxicating scent of their plastic-wrapped covers. A small, independent bookstore in a nearby shopping center was cozy, dimly lit and full of magical possibilities to a bookworm like me. I wanted to move in and live there. Sleep with the books, wake with them, eat with them, breathe them in at all times. I ate many a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut in my elementary school years thanks to their BookIt! program (by the way, did you know BookIt! was still around!? I didn’t.).

With a more flexible schedule this year, I signed up to help in my son’s elementary school library a few mornings a month. I can’t even express to you how happy I am in that space. I love the books, the covers, the old familiar favorites that are still checked out as eagerly as they were when I was a child. Re-shelving returned books, I can touch and feel new-to-me series, find out about new authors, see stories about magic and powerful girls and strange creatures and mysteries to be solved. Helping the kids check out books, I secretly want to pocket all of their choices. Instead, I exclaim things like “Oh! This looks so good!” Or, “My son loved this, I hope you like it!” Or “I loved this as a kid!” Or “And have you read…?” They kind of look at me sideways, stamp their due dates, smile politely then high tail it back to their classroom. Stocking newly arrived books means I get a front row seat to the classics of tomorrow. Wonder and Sisters and Jacqueline Woodson.

I want to read them all. I want to open each cover and dig in. Perhaps, more honestly, I want my old Pink Panthers pink plastic framed classes. I want a quiet spot on my twin bed, a rainy afternoon and a stack of these books. I want the innocence and wonder of magical worlds and endless time with little responsibility other than to show up at the table when my mother called me down for dinner. I want stiff legs and lost afternoons. I want that feeling of rebirth to the real world by stepping outside into the reality of kids on roller skates and bikes and jump ropes after being immersed in the haze of some other person’s far away fictional reality.

I still experience magic when I read. I still can be immersed in a story. I have cried at the end of a book, not because it was sad or tragic, but because it was over (most recently, Tell the Wolves I’m Home). I have felt lost in the days after a great book, afraid to start a new one that it wouldn’t compare to the greatness I’d just imbibed.

But that initial magic that the titles of my youth still hold over me? That newly minted miracle of words is special and reserved for the younger readers among us. The novices. The rookies. They are in the midst of falling in love, experiencing that mystical, heady time when they are engulfed and obsessed and can’t possibly fathom what life was like before…before they could read, before Harry Potter’s scar, before a wimpy kid’s diary, before a magical tree house or a principal donned underpants. As an adult, I still love books, but it’s like a long relationship – sometimes you take them for granted or are disappointed or simply forget to call.

Then I spend a morning at the elementary school library and remember what it felt like to fall in love with books. I already know which shelves are home to my favorites. I keep a list of ones to recommend to the 8 year old. I hold their weight and remember what it felt like to roam and wander and seek and discover. I breathe in the ease that being surrounded by words provides. I am home in that library. Any library.

I have the unique privilege of watching my boys fall in love one word at a time. The 8 year old comes home every day with five new books from his classroom library or we catch him under the covers well past his bedtime reading by the light of a tiny book lamp. The five year old has started sounding out words, spotting sight words and imitating his favorite characters (Mo Willems’ Pigeon, Elephant and Piggie being favorites).

It’s true that money can’t buy you love. But perhaps, just maybe, a library card can.