authors on virtual tour

I’ve discovered one silver lining to our current Stay at Home situation – virtual talks with authors. With the unfortunate cancellation of live book signings and author talks, at least many have taken to the Internet to share their stories and discuss their writings. I’ve participated in four over the past four weeks. Listening to these talented writers speak from their homes somehow personalized the experience and made them more real.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. One of my all-time favorite authors. Even though my book club had Skyped with Lisa for our discussion of Sea Women, she was a delight to hear her speak again about the women divers of Jeju Island, Korea and how she begins each one of her books by defining three core driving forces of her story: 1) What is the relationship focus? 2) What is the main emotion of the story? and 3) What is the historic backdrop? Excellent tips to keep in mind and a new assignment for me to reflect upon for Eliza’s story. I enjoyed Lisa’s virtual book talk via a Facebook Live session hosted by Adriana Trigiani, a very entertaining host. And, I agree with one of her comments – Lisa’s stories are like a beautiful Chinese silk – rich in layers. Check her out – she is holding weekly Live sessions on Tuesdays at 6pm EST. I also listened to her interview with Jamie Brenner, an author I hadn’t heard of before, but her latest release, Summer Longing, set in Provincetown MA sounds great. More info on our book club discussion of Sea Women, June 2019, HERE.

Book Club June 2019

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. I logged into this talk looking forward to learning from the master storyteller who makes the densest non-fiction book read like fiction, like his masterpieces: Devil in the White City, Isaac’s Storm, and Dead Wake. The opening discussion about his latest release on the London Blitz and Churchill’s leadership of the British people during those dark days of 1940 was fascinating. Brendan and I were scheduled to hear Larson at the Harvard Bookstore in late March which was unfortunately cancelled. However, we did receive our books at least and Brendan has already finished his copy, reporting 503 pages is L-O-N-G, but it held his interest, especially reading about bombs dropping across the city while people sat in their kitchens eating in breakfast. Puts our current situation in perspective for sure.

I have my copy next up on my pile. I abandoned the virtual talk, however, when the host turned the conversation into a political rant about current leadership. Regardless of your personal views, this was not the space for that type of dialogue. I’ll have to look for another Larson interview to learn more.

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige. OMG!!! I tried hard not to let my personal connection to Amity skew my opinion while I read Sea Wife. She was one of my writing course professors and the leader of my first writers’ retreat two years ago. I say with confidence and without hesitation, I loved this story for the poetic writing and personal connection Amity makes between the reader and the main character, Juliet. Readers who have lived through the self-questioning days of early motherhood and complicated by their own childhood experiences will find themselves standing in Juliet’s shoes – or sitting in her closet. Sea Wife presents an intimate look at a marriage heading toward drowning in a sea of regrets while the young Partlow family sails around Central America.

While I felt undertones of Kate Chopin’s classic The Awakening, written over 100 years ago, about a woman’s tragic struggle with self-definition, I appreciated the more modern resolution Juliet finds as she faces and battles her fears. Amity also engages the reader through a unique dual narrative approach, interchanging first person POV from Juliet telling her story with entries from the voyage log book of Juliet’s  husband, Michael, who uses the log as much as a diary as a nautical recount of their trip. The juxtaposition, including different fonts, provides a rapid pace to move through the story.

I marked many passages throughout the book which to me are more poetry than prose – a true testament to an author who can write both: She is like a fallen scrap of sky. We’re just a hyphen between our parents and our kids. The night deepened, dark as a well, and time fell into it. And, this gem:

A mother is a house

The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss.  This August 2020, the United States will celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote. The Woman’s Hour details the final weeks leading up to the state vote in Tennessee to ratify. Tennessee held the distinct honor / privilege / curse of being the pivotal state to bring the Act forward for state voting. If it was approved, TN would be the 36th state, the magic number needed to secure a majority among the then 48 states.

I’m not sure I would have picked up The Woman’s Hour if it wasn’t the first selection of a virtual book club organized by Wheaton College’s Alumnae group. But, I’m glad I did. Weiss’ meticulous research shone through to present a cast of characters which seemed to be in the thousands. I have to admit I needed my own chart to keep track of them all. From the two factions of supporters – the National Woman’s Party led by Alice Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association led by Carrie Catt – to the Antis (women against the vote!!! insert mad face emoji here!) led by Mary Kilbreth, to the state Senators, Representatives, Governor Roberts, local journalists, to the two presidential candidates for the 1920 election (Cox and Harding), each one was actively involved in the cliff-hanger days of political maneuverings through the streets and halls of Nashville.

While I enjoyed learning more of the work that went into the years which led to the fateful days in August 2020 and appreciate the dedication of the suffragists, the glad-handing and back-door promises, etc. etc. underscored why I have minimal interest in politics. This statement pretty much sums it up for me: “The strategic schism isn’t uncommon in social and political movements  – all the different factions are confusing to the legislators and the public.” Um, hello – how many Democratic candidates did we start out with leading up to this summer???? I rest my case.

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