I meant to read one of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, because I think they’re Urban Fantasy, and I’m supposed to be checking that out. Like field research for the bookstore.
But this one caught my eye instead. Because Shakespeare’s Trollop is about the best title ever. So, I read it. In just over 24 hours.
This is the kind of book people like to pigeon-hole as frivolous reading–“beach reading” people call it when they’re being polite. But all reading is important… because books will speak to you, if you let them. They’ll meet you where you are and teach you.
Shakespeare’s Trollop made some pretty strong observations about human nature: our willingness to judge others without considering the life events that shaped them; our desire to be in control constantly battling with our need for connection; our drive to categorize and label other people, without acknowledging that people can be multifaceted, complex, and human.
The truth is I didn’t love the protagonist, Lily Bard (but what a GREAT name for a book set in Shakespeare, Arkansas), or feel any real connection to her. Which is usually a deal-breaker for me. But there I went, turning one page after another because I needed to know who had committed the murder in Shakespeare and WHY. Ultimately, I appreciated Harris’ glimpses into human nature (including my own). And her writing. Which is smooth as butter.
The first time I read Rubyfruit Jungle, I was 19 years old, recently out, and head-over-heels in love with my girlfriend. I devoured the book. It was mouthy, cocky, and brash—most of the things I wasn’t but really wanted to be. But most importantly, Rubyfruit Jungle offered me the gift of seeing some of my own life experiences, my thoughts, my pain reflected back to me on the page. I was represented in this book. And I was there for it. 100%.
24 years later… Rubyfruit Jungle did not disappoint. I’d forgotten about the immediacy of the narrative, the precise turn of phrase that feels like a gut-punch, the poignant moments that remind me who I am (and how far I’ve come). It’s all still there.
But, as a grown-ass woman, Molly Bolt read different. I saw less of her bravado and more of her tenderness. One scene with her mother toward the novel’s end slayed me—and it hadn’t really even been on my radar the first go-round. But it spoke so clearly to my own pain in coming out and navigating fractured familial relationships… I wonder how I could have missed it. But another interlude between Molly and a young lover, that I’d played up in my mind so much that I was sure the entire novel revolved around this relationship, seemed entirely insignificant to me.
Turns out that Rubyfruit Jungle was still speaking to me after all these years… but offering entirely different insights.
Sometimes I get too big for my britches. That’s just cold hard truth.
In a short, succinct, and damn powerful book, Austin Channing Brown managed to make me take an honest look at my relationship to whiteness and how I manage that in spaces where I’m working toward racial justice—hell, in any spaces at all. And she kinda took me down a peg.
This book is a hard read. Because it’s honest. But it’s crucial for white folks invested in ending racism. Because that shit is pervasive. And difficult to stamp out, even with the best of intentions. And what will render me totally ineffective–and even harmful–is thinking I understand what it’s really like to move through America as a person of color. And thinking that the systemic racism that pervades America culture has somehow been washed clean from my psyche. This book fully disabused me of that notion. And reminded me that it is a fight every day to undo the assumptions, the misconceptions, the prejudice engrained in me as a white woman.
I champion reading because I believe it changes us to our core. Books can offer perspective entirely different from our own. And because books expect nothing of us, we can process our feelings, our confusion, our defensiveness in the quiet of our own mind. Which is what, if you are white like me, you are going to want to do with this book.
I was in the library, minding my own business, when Capitalism in America: A History called out to me. No kidding. I saw it and tried to walk away. But I was pulled back to the shelf—completely against my will.
I am whole-heartedly uninterested in economics. And I’m skeptical of capitalism, in general. Also, it was written by Alan Greenspan, so I figured I’d die of boredom before finishing all of its 450 pages.
Good news! I’m still in the land of the living. And I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s strong history component keeps it infinitely readable. Which, co-author, Adrian Woolridge likely deserves the credit for—since he’s a historian and a journalist. Capitalism in America broke down the basics of the upward and downward trends of a capitalist economy in a way I could digest without my eyes glazing over.
But the best part was that the argument so skillfully posited in the book ran counter to some of my most deeply held beliefs. So, it did what great books should do: it made me think and question my position. Ultimately, it made me want to know more and prompted a desire to seek out an alternative viewpoint to Greenspan’s. Which means reading more about economics. By choice. How very odd.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this one. It’s a great primer on both American History & economics. And it’s surprisingly engaging. And you’ll feel smarter if you read it. Pinky swear.
I spent the last 2 days hanging around writers, booksellers, and publishers.
I think, as humans, one of the very best things we can do for ourselves is find our little group of like-minded weirdos. Everybody is weird (some prefer “unique,” but whatever). Being in a group of similarly weird people makes you feel connected and understood. You don’t have to explain yourself, or search for just the right words to make someone understand your point of view. Your Weirdo Tribe is just going to GET IT.
Me, I walk through the world thinking about words about 85% of the time. See, weird. But I’m a writer and an aspiring bookseller–that’s, like, ALL the words.
But 2 things happened during my sojourn with these bookseller/writer types that gave me that blissful feeling when you see something of yourself in someone else–when the very innermost parts of you feel represented and seen:
#1: One of the presenters from Southern Fried Karma (“a multi-media production company developing projects in music, films and books”–but c’mon, isn’t that just the best name?!?) started talking about the power of books to establish community. Because we know that reading builds empathy. And empathy paves the way for community and connection. The more you read, most often the wider your worldview. The more you see similarities and understand the way other people experience the world, the less strong your impluse to “other” people. The more likely you become to reach out, to seek diverse communities, to support people–even those seemingly unlike yourself.
And that’s precisely what the dude from SFK was expressing when he told the story about white supremacists coming to his small, Georgia town to have a rally–and the black and white communities uniting to keep out the white supremacists, creating a space where hate could not thrive. And as he talked about the power of books to create this kind of empathy, to unite two seemingly disparate communities in rural(ish) Georgia, he began to tear up.
And OH. MY. GOD. Yes.
I tear up when I talk about books all the time. Because they are so powerful. And stories–every story–can change the world (that’s why the tagline for Bookish is “Every Story Matters.”) And hell yes, that’s something to get emotional over.
We need change. Books ARE that change. We just need to get them into the hands of the people and remind them about the magical ability of stories to change lives.
#2: On the Bus Tour of Atlanta Bookstores, I met an author from North Carolina who’s debut novel is coming out this Summer. That’s a BIG DEAL. We chatted about how tough the writing process can be (there are no bon-bons involved. It is NOT, in fact, a cakewalk). And I gave her the brief rundown about the progress on my middle grades novel. Honestly, I’d never talked to someone who was just a short stretch ahead of me on the road to becoming published. Most folks I meet are either established authors… or they are going to write an book someday. But this woman had just emerged from the trenches of rewriting, revising, and editing… and now she had a BOOK that other people were going to READ. I just found it all so hopeful. Like maybe it would happen for me, too.
The next day, the same woman was a presenter at the conference I attended. She spoke about the blurry line between memoir and fiction that is autofiction. And that was amazing in and of itself, because I’ve been thinking about memoir writing, but hesitating because–for real, y’all–once upon a time, I drank so much that my memory isn’t entirely trustworthy. But autofiction opens up a whole new world where things can be true AND not true. Whoa.
But, also, in describing the ways that readers react to autofiction (often by trying to determine how much of the fiction is “true” and how much authority you really have two write about certain themes), she shared part of her story with us. And I swear, it was just like my story. And nothing like my story. And the things she said made me feel so visible, and I thought she was so brave to have shared them, that I ran right up to her afterwards to give her a hug. Because how often does someone tell your story that isn’t your story and remind about so much of what was and what isn’t but what always is?
Rarely. And oh my Lord, is it a gift.
Stories are so much bigger than us. They take on a life of their own. They reach people in ways we can’t begin to fathom. And they do change lives. Hell, they can change the whole world.
(And, yes, I totally cried the whole time I wrote this. Whatever.)
Productivity has been taking up a lot of my brain space lately.
I know. I know. Snooze fest.
But really, it’s more about life management. And coping. Just stick with me.
I’m relatively new to planning anything in my life. I totally wish I was kidding. But I’ve always had some sort of ad hoc organization system in my head–and resisted putting anything on paper. Or into the ether on my new fangled ‘puter.
But 2019 brought me into the land of the organized with an Ink + Volt Planner (courtesy of my best friend, who really gets me, you know??). And I am totally getting shit done. It’s a miracle.
But, I’m also learning about my own work flow. And my need to shift focus when I get stuck on a project. Which means that things don’t always go exactly as planned. And that’s okay. (Right?!?)
Yesterday, I had big plans to knock out a chunk of client work. But first, I needed to clear out some of the books taking over my house. (For those who haven’t been following along, there are 3 major things going on over here: starting a used bookstore, freelance writing, and editing a book manuscript).
I started on the books first thing in the morning. And totally got sucked in. Sorting and boxing the books is a process. It involves taking all the books out of the boxes I brought them home in, sorting them into categories, wiping them down with a magic eraser, scraping stickers off of them & removing goo, and reboxing them.
Simon, my sweet, long-suffering husband, works in the room where the books wait to be sorted and boxed. That means he’s always stepping over boxes of books to even get to his desk. So, while he was out of town for work, I really wanted to clear some stuff out of that room. Because marriage.
I was making real progress. Boxes to be taken to the storage unit started accumulating by the door. Then I looked at the time and realized I should have already started the client work*. But I also knew that, if I shoved the books back in the room without completing my sorting and reboxing task, I’d feel defeated. Like I’d wasted hours and hours and got nothing done. And Simon would still come home to a workspace that was a flaming hot mess. So, I ignored my original plan and stuck with the books. Until 11:30 pm.
What’s currently blowing my mind: I feel really accomplished even though I totally blew off something on my to do list. Whoa.
Here’s something else to add to my current mind scramble: I’ve been getting up each day at 5 am to revise my book manuscript. And it’s been going brilliantly. Until yesterday. When I became convinced I was a fraud that shouldn’t even be allowed to write the copy on the back of a cereal box. Everything about the manuscript felt hollow and lame.
So, I left it alone this morning. I purposely slept in until 6:45 am.
Wha???? BUT THAT WASN’T IN THE PLAN. (Obviously, spontaneity is an issue for me. I’m working on it)
This book I’m working on is kind of a big deal to me. It’s middle grades fiction. And I love it.
And making the commitment to revise it every day felt–and still does feel–right. But I’d reached a point in the narrative that wasn’t well executed in the initial draft. So it needs a lot of work. Which requires a whole new level of focus. And I’m gonna need to regroup for that. And look at it fresh. The story and the characters deserve that. Hell, I deserve that.
So, I didn’t touch it today. Instead, I’ve had two relatively leisurely cups of coffee and am about to get around to that client work I meant to do yesterday.
So, yeah, work flow and mini-burnout and getting shit done… That’s what’s been up over here. I’m digging being in a place in my life where enough is going on that I have to learn to strike a balance. It’s carefully managed chaos. But it’s mine. And I kind of love it.
*No clients were blown off in The Epic Sorting of the Books. It was a self-imposed deadline. I’m WAY too much a Virgo to ever miss an actual deadline.
Stephen King has been a favorite of mine since I was 12. I was spellbound then, as I am now, by his masterful storytelling (I mean, c’mon, The Shining is second to none). I fell in love with his horror stories, but I’ve come to realize that he can write anything. And that’s real talent.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams offers a collection of Stephen King’s short(ish) stories. The bizarrely imaginative plots range from a monster car (which is very different than a monster truck, trust me) to an ill-fated fireworks display. My favorites, though, were about an otherworldly Kindle and a sanity threatening Cookie Jar. Really.
Each story has a brief intro, where King explains his inspiration for the story (literary or otherwise). I love that these intros acknowledge that other writers have influenced King’s craft over time… and none more so than the ones he really immerses himself in. Which is likely why so much of the creative work I’ve done recently is heavily Stephen Kingesque. He’s the kind of storyteller whose style and way of envisioning the world colors your own reality. Or at least it colors mine.
I get drawn back to King for the power of his stories but I stay because he’s a magician with words. I didn’t love every story in this collection. But the ones I did love return to my consciousness over and over again. They have staying power. And they are something to aspire to.