3/07/2009

Literary Salon


Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Love , Pray

GFT spends a fair amount of time reading books; it is no secret, she is an English teacher and has been an avid reader all her life. This new wrinkle to a lifetime of generally avoiding whatever I should be doing by burying my head in a book, (as a child, I carried reading material with me everywhere to fill those odd minutes, whether it be swim lessons or class time; went to the local library once a week and checked out the max, which was 20, every time; actually saved up my lunch money to buy paperbacks from the book cart at my school library instead of getting the ice cream sandwich each day; have been known to pack more books than clothing for an extended trip; was always the lone mom with a book in my lap at my sons' soccer games; have read the Bible so many times I've lost count, most often while sitting in the pew at church trying to tune out some dreadful sermon resounding all around me; to this day I keep an emergency book to read in almost all locations, incl my car), is to commune with other readers in a variety of situations.

People are often amazed when they hear that I am in two, yes, count 'em, two ! book clubs - at the same time ! One at work, and one at home in the neighborhood. Please remember, a book club isn't just about the book - it's also about the socialization, the food & wine, the pleasure of the experience of coming together with friends who like books. We talk about the book, but we also talk about other things. This isn't the only reading that I do, oh no.......Of course, I also read and re-read for work ( skim each novel one more time right before I teach it), read books not assigned by my book clubs just for fun, keep a running list of titles on amazon - generally things I hear reviewed on NPR or rec by a friend - and pick off a half dozen things to buy each month on payday, have subscriptions to dozens of magazines ( frequently given to me by well-meaning relatives ) , read at least 3 newspapers a day ( local small town one, one for the major metropolis nearby, and a national one), not to mention the countless hours wasted each day surfing the net, reading various things too random to mention.

As if two book clubs weren't enough ( fortunately, their lists tend to overlap some, and I don't feel compelled to read 100% of their selections), I have found a wonderfully addictive new time-waster, the "author talk". People who are lucky enough to live in NYC or LA have had access to these type of events forever. People who live in a fly-over state don't always get those options. Fortunately for GFT, the Dallas Museum of Art has this wonderful program called "Arts and Letters Live", which brings noted authors to town.

http://dallasmuseumofart.org/Dallas_Museum_of_Art/Experience/Arts___Letters_Live/index.htm

Through this venue, I been able to hear some of my favorite current authors talk about their published works, books that are in progress, heard them read from their selections, and listened to them ramble on and on and " talk piffle" ( in the immortal words of Dorothy Sayers.) It is always interesting to see and listen to an author and how s/he approaches such an event as "the author talk". Some are self-conscious, some are self-deprecating, some are unusually thoughtful, some are surprisingly witty, some are kinda dull, some use the event as a chance to sell an upcoming work, or push a particular cause they believe in. Over the most recent few years, I have gotten to "see" ( hear) :

1) Khaled Hosseini -The Kite Runner, 1000 Sacred Suns -mild mannered, articulate, thoughtfully intelligent, soft-spoken.
2)Marjane Satrapi-Persepolis - amazingly fluent and funny and interesting, esp considering that English is her 5th language ( so she said)
3)Tracy Chevalier - Girl With a Pearl Earring - interesting how she gets the ideas for her novels
4)Wally Lamb-I Know This Much is True, The Hour I First Believed - very thoughtful, quiet, deeply spiritual
5)Elizabeth Gilbert - Eat, Love, Pray - long rambling stream-of-consciousness, but delightful to listen to, and you come away feeling like you've just had the best therapy session of your life
6)Ian McEwan - Atonement, Amsterdam -surprisingly witty in a droll British way

An evening dedicated to going to hear an author talk usually takes the form of a "girl's night out" for me, and involves meeting up with a friend or friends, having dinner, drinks, etc. For Elizabeth Gilbert's event I went with 4 friends that make up a rather eclectic group : one is a science teacher ( 50ish), one a hairstylist (30ish), one a physical therapist (60ish), and myself, another teacher(40ish). What we share in common are: wild wacky sense of humor, fashion as we each interpret it, love of good food and wine, an interest in world cultures and alternative religions. (At various points, we have also shared a therapist and some of our favorite nightclubs, but I digress.) We had a fabulous evening, eating Vietnamese food and then going to the symphony hall, along with 1200 other like-minded (99% women) people, to hear Ms Gilbert share her warmth, humor, and wisdom with us. It reminded me that a teeny tiny little part of me celebrates the goddess, the communal teachings of all womankind. For I can't have helped but notice at these events that the majority of the people there are women, and I have often asked myself, why ? The Kite Runner is a masculine story line, with male characters in a middle eastern country. Amsterdam focuses primarily on male characters and the world of politics, being a sort of modern-day remake of Julius Caesar. It isn't as if all the books I like are written by, about, and for women. I live in a home full of men, all of whom are currently enthralled with reading : The Count of Monte Cristo, the Watchmen, anything by John Krakauer. Whatever the reason, I celebrate these experiences, and have decided that this, the cult of books, is my new religion.

Ian McEwan

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