Archive for September, 2009

30 September, 2009

A Different Kind of Connection

Hi to Wendy Robards who is visiting via a guest post today. Her regular home is at where she hosts a literary blog about books, reviews, reading challenges and other word-wise thoughts. Wendy is in Maine, the place where I wrote my first (bad) book and my novel, A Disobedient Girl, so we share a connection to a place that speaks to both what she talks about in her post today and what I am talking about in my post ‘Thinking Aloud About Time & Space,’ on her site today.

guestpostrufreeman022009-09-26-2The world spins faster these days with social networking, cell phones which can snap instant photos and connect to the Internet even in the middle of nowhere, and digital readers that can store more books than I have room for on my bookcase shelves. We are never unconnected – from friends, family, work. Everything that needs to be done can be done instantly. We pay our bills on line, shoot off emails which arrive at their destination in seconds, and download photos we took only moments before.

And so it occurred to me the other day as I carefully pressed and cut fabric for a new quilt and felt my heart rate slow and a sense of calm steal over me, that one of the reasons my life has felt out of kilter and speeding out of control these days might just be related to how I choose to spend my time. Somehow, in the fast and furious world of instant connection and electronic stimulation we have slipped away from the things that ground us, slow us down, and connect us to simplicity and beauty.

The art of quilt making requires many steps to get to the end result. It starts with selecting fabric, finding pleasing colors that coordinate, and envisioning how they will come together to form a block which then forms a row, which then forms a quilt. At this stage many quilters may sit quietly with a calculator and a piece of graph paper, sketching geometric shapes and planning. Then comes pressing, inhaling the steam from the iron and the warmth of the fabric, smoothing out the wrinkles, setting the fabric on the cutting mat and carefully cutting the pieces which will form the whole.

Pinning, stitching quarter inch seam allowances, more pressing, the whir of the sewing machine, the fabric sliding beneath one’s fingertips, the joy at watching the colors combine in a unique and simple design…the process unfolds slowly, engaging the visual, auditory and tactile senses.

But you are not done yet. The backing, batting and top must be pinned together with care and then there is more contemplation. How will you quilt this beautiful creation? Straight lines? Flowery whirls? What color thread would be the best? And as the quilting progresses, the piece transforms itself and becomes a multi-dimensional work of art. The binding is hand stitched – tiny, perfect stitches -with the quilt draped over one’s lap.

When it is all done – washed and air dried in the sunlight – the quilt has become part of the quilter with its wrinkles and soft folds, art that warms and comforts and is pleasing to the eye and to the hand. It is this process and final result that stirs within us a sense of peace and beauty, a sense that we are creating something lasting that took time and care, a piece of ourselves that has the power to touch others. Who has not curled beneath a handmade quilt and felt comforted?

Quilt making reminds us of our roots and history. Perhaps it is in our genetic memory, passed on from our ancestors.There are other activities that also ground us, connect us to our environment and senses, and remind us that beauty is sometimes found in the most simple of things: baking bread (combining, kneading, waiting, baking…inhaling the smell of yeast in a warm kitchen), planting a garden (fingers pushing into dirt, the smell of the sun on the earth), and walking in nature (the sound of the wind through the trees, the scurry of animals in the bushes, the song of birds). Sometimes just sitting on a porch after a rainstorm, with the clean smell of damp earth and the occasional drip of water from a tree branch, can bring us to that place of quiet and contemplation.

Technology has carried us in its wake with its cold, fast, instant gratification. The world spins faster these days and we may be forgetting how to slow down. Feeding our souls and finding a place of calm is only a quilt or a loaf of bread or a homegrown tomato away. It is taking our time and enjoying the journey, engaging our senses and remembering our roots.

29 September, 2009

Raising Half & Halfs

I’m over at the Lost in Books site guest posting a few thoughts about raising cross-cultural children in America. There’s an excerpt below. Click this link for the full post and browse Rebecca’s other love, design through the Ruby’s Upcycled Designs site which has a hundred other links to gorgeous treasures made from something old.

“Sri Lankan children are unreservedly indulged from birth to the age of five. Mothers chase after them at lunch, with little balls of rice on spoons or, more usually, in their fingertips, cajoling the beloved to take one more bite of food. Water is warmed for their baths, they are coddled and cuddled and forgiven for all manner of travesties. They throw tantrums which are observed by smiling, sweet-tongue extended family. They are given the best of every luxury that a family is fortunate enough to come by, no matter their social status. At five, though, everything changes. That is when all children go to school; usually to montessori schools. At this point, they are expected to buckle down to the serious business of being not babies but children. Almost overnight, children realize – and appear to do so without too much trauma – that the honeymoon is over. They turn away from parents toward their peers, united by their common predicament. Parents, in turn, bond with those to whom their children are entrusted: teachers.

Sri Lankan children move, therefore, between what are considered two sets of parents, the ones who gave them life and those who teach them how to live. The first songs that children are taught in Sri Lanka are those that describe the respect due to both parents and teachers. And, in true Sri Lankan style, the lyrics are gut-wrenching! It is relatively easy for children to undergo this transformation because there is a universally accepted set of cultural beliefs to buttress the frame within which it takes place: respect for their elders no matter where they are found, the value of education, the importance of religious and cultural observances (Sri Lanka celebrates all four major religions of the world), the worth of hospitality toward guests and loyalty to ones friends.”


23 September, 2009

Update on Sri Lanka

Because of the book tour – and two periods of being pretty sick – I have been unable to keep up with the blog as diligently as I had tried to do before. Also because of these same things I have not been able to stay abreast of everything about which I am concerned – the health care issues here and the IDP issues in Sri Lanka. I’m going to try and redress the latter here with some updated information for those of you who are interested and ask me questions about these things when I am on tour. while the statistics and details below will give you an idea of the work being done through official channels, I want to mention that hundreds of small and large Sri Lankan organizations both in Sri Lanka and worldwide are participating in the reconstruction and reconciliation efforts throughout the island. I have been fortunate to be able to participate – albeit in a modest way – with the efforts of groups in Boston and Texas. As I discovered in the wake of the tsunami, those kinds of person to person initiatives have an extraordinary impact on both the giver and the recipient.

Last week, Lynn Pascoe, UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, highlighted the progress made so far to rebuild Northern Sri Lanka to enable accelerated resettlement of displaced persons. That work includes the following:

Infrastructure, Roads and Transportation Development

Repairs on major highways of the Northern Province are under way. Roads now under renovation include the A9, A32, A 14, A 17, A 34, A 35 AB 19, AB 20 (Jaffna – Point Pedro) and B 229 (Murungan- Silavaturai). Work on access roads to highways and rural villages is also underway.

Health and Water Supply

The renovation of 12 rural health centers and hospitals in Killinochi, Mannar and Vavuniya district is due to be completed by mid-October. The Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition is also planning to renovate the Killinochi base hospital.

Livelihood Development

Approximately 60 lorries of commercial goods and agricultural products were transported to and from Jaffna peninsula on the A9 ( Jaffna – Kandy) highway in August. Repairs to large irrigation systems in the Jaffna district (Thondaman Aru) and the Giant tank (reservoir) and the Agathimuruppu tank in the Mannar district have been completed. Fish production in the Jaffna peninsula has also increased and the harvesting of 1,731 metric tons fish production was reported in July. The production in May was just 774 metric tons.

Education: Displaced Children Take Entrance Exams

Of the Northern Province’s 1,011 schools, 575 are now open and repairs are underway in damaged schools. The Ministry of Education reports that the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advance Level examinations (University entrance examinations) were held at 10 special examination centers in Vavuniya for 1,263 displaced candidates who are presently housed in IDP welfare villages. Among them were 166 ex-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) child soldiers. The Zonal Education Office in Vavuniya successfully held grade five scholarship examinations for 5,465 children living in welfare villages and in the transitional camps in Cheddikulam. The Zonal Office and non-government organizations operating in Vavuniya district provided stationery for the children who sat for the exams.


The Ministry of Power and Energy has initiated a program to restore the power supply in the Killinochi, Vavuniya and Mullaithivu districts. Power in the Killinochi town area, Oddusudan, Mankulam, Nedunkerni, Pallimudoi and almost all areas in Mannar district has been restored.

Monetary and Material Assistance

The Government of Sri Lanka will provide returning displaced families with $220, galvanized roofing sheets, six months of free dry rations, kitchen utensils and equipment required for daily living needs to the equivalent to US $ 35-$40, as well as agricultural seed and equipment and fishing supplies for coastal communities.

Rehabilitation of former Child Soldiers

Sri Lanka has implemented a comprehensive rehabilitation program for rescued child soldiers. The government has established two Children’s Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centers (PARC) in Ambepussa, Kegalle (Central Sri Lanka) and Poonthottam Cooperative training School in Vavuniya Facilities for education and catch-up education, vocational training, recreational activities and special educational programs are also available. The centers feature telephone and meeting facilities that allow former child-soldiers to meet with parents, immediate family members and close relatives. Food and lodging for visiting family members are provided by the centers in collaboration with the UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The government continues to work closely with UNICEF on pending cases of underage recruitment.


Initial surveys of Northern Sri Lanka suggest that there are as many as 1.5 million LTTE landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) over an area of 402 square kilometers. Sri Lanka has now purchased 10 de-mining machines from Slovakia and Croatia for $5 million. The machines can clear 5,000 square meters of land in a day, compared to 10 square meters for each human de-mining technician. The machines should significantly increase the pace of de-mining, leading to more rapid IDP resettlement. Seven nations are aiding Sri Lanka with de-mining: the U.S., UK, Denmark, India, Norway, Japan and Australia. At the end of August, a total of 445,370,401square meters have been cleared of mines and UXOs. The government of Sri Lanka has so far spent $64 million on de-mining operations.

Displaced Persons by Welfare Center
The number of IDPs housed in welfare village region:
Vavuniya District Relief Villages 224,394
Others in Vavuniya (schools, education facilities and elder care) 15,812
Vengala Chettikulam DS Division Welfare Centers 21,665
Jaffna District Welfare Centers 10,853
Trincomalee District Welfare Centers 6,842

17 September, 2009

Ticket To Anywhere

gail21Guest Post #3 is from Gail, whose blog-home Ticket to Anywhere I am visiting today. Here is a peek we rarely get – as writers – into what motivates the bloggers who review us. She decided to share twenty questions she had answered for Book Blogger Appreciation Week and I am posting a few of them here.

How’d you come up with the name for your blog?

I’ve always loved travelling (I caught my Nana’s bug at an early age) but it isn’t always easy to hop on a plane and go somewhere. So I started to visit those places I’ve always wanted to see through books. I’ve let the characters I’ve met show me what it is like to walk the Great Wall or even to travel through time and experience some of history’s greatest moments. Books are my way to travel…its corny but they are my Ticket to Anywhere.

How did you get into book blogging? How long have you been doing it?

I was just started to read some book blogs myself – having stumbled upon one through a search. I really like the idea of recording my thoughts on a book. Up until I started my blog I’d just been recording my rating and a brief description in Excel. So in June 2007 I took the plung and started my blog. Initially it was just a way for me to record my thoughts and I really didn’t start getting involved in the blogging community until about a year ago.

What has been the most challenging thing about blogging for you? What has been the most exciting?

The most challenging thing has been keeping up on my book reviews! I am so far behind its not funny….but the books and real life events have distracted me. For example, a good portion of this weekend was spent with Cassie Clare’s Mortal Instruments series books 2 and 3 – they are like crack I couldn’t put them down let alone try to focus on writing reviews!

The most exciting thing has been getting to know other bloggers. One of the best things I did last year was go to Book Expo America where I got to meet Alea (from Pop Culture Junkie) and my friend Tiffany S (from Letters, Words, Thoughts, Ideas, Stories…) Along with so many other great bloggers and author…did I even mention all the authors I stalked there?!? Total drool worthy event!

Where do you get most of your books?

I get most of my books from Barnes & Noble, Borders, and the Strand. My friend Beth (who blogs over at My Hobbies) and I are also constantly swapping books back and forth. Sometimes I am amazed that we can even remember what books belong to who. I also do get sent books from various publishers, publicists and authors…just one of the unexpected things that has been a result of blogging about books.

Are there any books have you been a book bully for? (ie one you’ve liked so much that you practically beat people over the head just to get them to read it)

So many! Of late I’ve been the bully for Hate List (OMG so amazing everyone must read it!!), The Book Thief, Jeanine Frost’s Night Huntress Series, Hunger Games, Catching Fire. I am now also berrating people to read Cassie Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. There really should be a support group for book bullies like me…I just don’t know when to stop.

Book you most want to read again for the first time?

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.

If you could visit with any characters….who would you chose?

I would love to go to school with Anne Shirley or walk the streets of Chicago with Harry Dresden. Go or to balls with Alex Stafford from The Season…etc etc etc…This is another one that I can go on and on and on about.

If you could give up the real world and move into a book, which one would it be and why?

All of them!! I just fall in love with all the words that I come across in books. I want to be like Thursday Next and be able to walk through the stories…so maybe that is the world….the one created by Jasper Fforde in his Eyre Affair, et al. The exception being Twilight because vampires shouldn’t sparkle!

What books have evoked strong feelings in you? Ones that really touched your heart, made you laugh out loud or made you cry?

God-Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Hart List by Jennifer Brown – they have all made me cry. Janet Evanovich and Stephanie Plum books always make me laugh out loud. As did Jaye Well’s Red-Headed Stepchild and Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series. Twilight made me want to slit my wrists…but that isn’t exactly a good reaction from a book. lol

Can you be found anywhere else on the net? (LibraryThing, Goodreads, Twitter, etc?)

Yes to all 3 and more. My usual interwebs idenity is Irisheyz77….its not one that I’ve ever had trouble getting as a log in so 98% of the time if you see it anywhere its me. =)

What are 5 books that are on your wish list right now?

The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, Book One: A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis
The Line by Terri Hall
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
The Snowball Effect by Holly Nicole Hoxter and
The Orion Tattoo by Caragh O’Brien

And many many more!

Finally, what are some of your favorite blogs to visit?

I’ll give 3 because that’s my favorite number and they are:
From My Bookshelf
Bibliolatry (This is one of the very first blogs I started to read that made me think, hey I can do this)
The Narrative Causality

16 September, 2009

Savvy Verse & Wit

bookish-me-2Guest Post #2 is from Serena M. Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit whose blog I am visiting today.

Savvy Verse & Wit began as a book review site and has transformed itself into a hub of poetry, poets, and helping readers discover contemporary poets through interviews and guest posts. I’ve been writing ever since I was a little girl at my nana’s typewriter on her kitchen table. I still remember my first short story, ‘The Big Apple,’ about a young woman who graduates college and becomes a journalist in New York City. While I haven’t written too many short stories, I do have about three novels in progress, and at least 30 poems from the recent poem-a-day challenge in April.

Writing is like breathing; I can’t stop myself and I wouldn’t want to. I’ve noticed through the years that inspiration can come from a number sources, including the news, photographs, other poems, fiction, scenery, music, etc.

Photography is another passion of mine that started at young age, thanks to my nana. She gave me my first 110 mm camera when I was in middle school, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve honed my skills with the gracious help of friends from my former part-time employer and local camera shop. I’ve learned about perspective, lighting, and different film types, and this knowledge has helped me compose better photos and inspire my writing.

Poems will often start with an image when I close my eyes or stare off into space or out a window. In some cases, I’ve been jolted from my bed in the wee hours by lines that run over and over in my head, and they just won’t let me sleep until I write them down. A notebook and a pen by the bed are the best tools I can have in these moments, though there are sometimes when a notebook simply will not suffice.

One Saturday morning, I work up really early and my husband stumbled out of the bedroom a half hour later to find me typing furiously at my laptop in the dining room. Picture a man, half-asleep, his hair tousled, staring squinty eyed at his wife and scratching his head. I told him that these characters would not let me sleep without telling their story. He simply laughed, put on a pot of coffee, and went back to bed. Writing can be like that, all consuming.

I’ve also noticed in the last couple of years that reading can be that way as well. I read a book and review it on my blog, only to quickly pick up the next in line. But there are some books that I just don’t want to end, and I will read them ever-so-slowly to make them last. All of these activities are connected; imagination grabs hold and takes each of us on a journey—some we love and some we wish had happened differently. It doesn’t matter to me where the journey takes me or whether it ends the way I want it to, so long as the characters are satisfied or evolved by the journey’s end.

9 September, 2009

Guest Post: Wordlily

The first of many guest posts from my fellow bloggers. This one is from Hannah Nielsen, whose website, is a true home for a bibliophile. It also happens to feature a review of A Disobedient Girl today.

Addendum: Just came across this website on words:

I’m honored to be offered this platform for today.

On my blog I have a regular weekly feature — Words from my reading — in which I post the words I’ve recently read, in books, that I was previously unfamiliar with. I include the word, the definition, and the sentence from the book that contains the word.

Here, instead of explaining all the different aspects of each entry, I’ll just give an example:

coir, n The prepared fiber of the husks of coconuts, used to make matting and rope
page 11, A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman
“Then she climbed on a low bench and took her blue dress off the coir rope where she had hung it to air after the last time.”

I started doing this earlier this year because I realized that my vocabulary had most likely shrunk from its laudable size in my school years. I’ve always liked learning new words, but since I’m not taking classes and certainly not turning in vocab lists every week for a grade, I found myself realizing I was not even retaining my vocabulary, let alone burgeoning it.

So I slowly acknowledged that to slow this ebb, I needed to act. I get a steady influx of words — I read a lot. What the situation required was a way of capturing those unfamiliar words.

We know that multiple encounters with information makes the likelihood of retention rise. So, I thought, what better way than to blog about these words? This means I’m not only reading the word, but I’m also:
2. writing the word down, along with the page number and part of speech,
3. typing the word,
4. typing the quote,
5. looking up the word, and
6. typing the definition.

This is a definite increase in the number of times I’m engaging with each new (to me) word, so hopefully I’ll learn what they all mean and even remember them the next time I read them.

I also figured that by posting these words on my blog I may boost the vocabulary of my readers. Nothing wrong with that, eh?

A (somewhat) unexpected and unintended side effect: Sometimes there’s a peer pressure element. I’ve made a commitment to post all the words I don’t know, even if I think a word is probably one many people know, or if it’s one I used to know but couldn’t remember when I read it. This has taken some courage, but I’ve stuck with it.

As I’ve continued to collect and post new words, I needed a way to put them all in one place, so I’ve created my Words page. It contains all the words from my words posts, along with their definitions. And instead of being in order of the book I read them in, they’re in alphabetical order. Fitting, yes?

Lastly, I’d like you to join me in wishing Ru Freeman a very happy birthday — using whatever words you desire — in the comments. Happy birthday, Ru! I hope it’s grand.

8 September, 2009

The Lush Life of Bread Loaf

img_0932It is a little shameful that I have not written a word here since that last brief bleep from the mountain in the wee hours of the morning of the 14th of August. But only just a little.

Last year, the summer before Bread Loaf, I suffered a head injury as I charged around a house-to-be-sold in Maine trying to vacuum in the dark. I cursed and shrieked and woke up my sleeping neighbors and ended up in the ER demanding stitches. Odd how a year changes things. I suffered two physical injuries while I was at Bread Loaf this year. First, another bang on my forehead which resulted in a similar quantity of blood trickling melodramatically down my face. Forget the ER. I stuffed ice under a hat tilted rakishly over one eye and went about my business. Next I scorched myself by leaning – with relief, no less! – on a stove. This was managed by securing a pack of ice to my arm with the shawl that I happened to have draped around my neck that day. I sat thus through my entire workshop with the inimitable and wickedly funny Ann Hood, and thus avoided an unsightly blister and, indeed, ended up with a dark slash that looked more like a particularly edgy tattoo than a burn.

I recount these incidents because, besides being humorous anecdotes (and leaving the scars which I wear with some pride in retrospect), they had no impact on my frame of mind. Minor burns and head wounds are now within the realm of the controllable in my life. Indeed, during my time at Bread Loaf – to which I had fled literally from the radiation room – img_0780I had only one moment when the searing pain of those self-repairing nerve endings made me stop what I was doing and remember that I was not entirely whole or mended. And despite the fact that fatigue had dogged my footsteps every night on which I couldn’t get a sufficient amount of sleep all through treatment, while at the conference I could keep going on only two or three hours of sleep a night, night after blessed night.

There is something about Bread Loaf. I’m sure everybody who hasn’t been there is pretty tired of hearing that by now, but it is true, there is. Nothing that troubles me “on earth” – in my personal life, in my family history, in the world of wars, elections won or lost, not one of the things that move me to opine or rant – touches me while I am there. It isn’t conscious, it isn’t by design, it is just how the days unfold.

So it was a strange adjustment for me this time, knowing that the the first thing I had to do when I came back was see not one but three physicians. The first act, to take the first of the doses of Tamoxifen that I will be ingesting every day, twice a day for the next five years of my life, and have the surgeons and oncologists and pathologists look at me and declare me in one state of repair or another. 3,650 pills in all. A few days back, as I stepped up on to the scale to be weighed, a nurse exclaimed “You aren’t going to take off your shoes? And you’re wearing heels? Wow that’s brave!” And I smiled.

img_08221I realize that there are only two ways to talk about Bread Loaf. In silence, or with words that verge on the lushness that Charles Baxter nudged us to consider during one of his lectures; the kind of language that we have learned to shun because it is routinely ridiculed by critics. I am taking up Charlie’s challenge. Down the line, you will be able to access this years Bread Loaf lectures via iTunes and listen to what he says and agree that sometimes lushness is called for. Here are a few people I hold close, and what they had to say about being at the conference. Here is Alexander Chee whose post is titled, “Consider Writing an 86 Proof Sentence” (a quote from Charlie), and Eugene Cross, whose post for the Hayden’s Ferry Review Blog is titled, “What I learned from Charlie.” Hmm. Curious. Here is Christian Anton Gerard, poet and fellow staffer:

img_0155It’s occurred to me this week that perhaps one of the reasons we do what we do is because of the lack of time we feel in the world. We run to the top of a mountain to make time…We will tell our friends and family about that time in an effort to show how wonderful and perfect the world of writing can sometimes be, but like (a friend) said, “the beauty in our moments on the mountain is in the fact that we never know if we’ll be here again… Which makes every moment here a completely tangible, but slippery thing we will cling to for the rest of our lives, but never be able to fully explain to anyone else.”

It is indeed a gift for all of us to have been there, and perhaps even more so for us to have been there together, but the fact that we can always be there together because we’re all clinging to the same slippery time-rocks, which we share only among each other is a gift and something newly spectacular in and of itself, I think. If you need me. Any of you. I will be across a hayed field in the middle of a beautiful creek at the bottom of a wooded hill. I will be picking up rocks and loving them even as they slip away. I will be running after them, sitting atop them. I will be sated when you wade in with me.

img_03751So, did I care how much weight was added to the scales with my high heels? Is there a way to measure the weightlessness of finding ones soul-sisters and brothers, of knowing how to love and be loved in return by beautiful, brilliant strangers who become friends over the turn of a single phrase? What is the weight of the light that fills up my body and my heart when I am where I am always among friends, always among people who share the same dream, who are gifted not only in the art of creating worlds with words, but in committing everything they have to holding each other up? img_03882We’re all familiar with the way people look and behave when they have experienced grave danger, some disaster, or even some period of time which has been consumed by worry about their own fate or that of someone they care deeply about. They tip, tearful with relief into the arms of their beloveds. What happens at Bread Loaf is not unlike that. You get there and you realize that you have left worlds and lives bereft, most of the time, of people who know what it is like to nurse a craving for words, a sort of eternal itch that tangles the fingers and brain so that not to write and read and talk freely about reading and writing and muses and wordly habits is an acutely felt torture. You get there and you tip, delirious with relief, into the arms


and minds


and words




and silences




of your tribe.


And you hold on


until you have to let go.




It is, indeed, a precious thing to recognize exactly what it is – what person or collection of people, what peculiar combination of forces or energies, what place, exactly – brings one the keen joy that renders a human being both full of oxygen and just as breathless. The body can endure all manner of slights from the universe so long as the heart can sing, and at Bread Loaf I always find that song, the voice with which to sing it and a heavenly orchestra to provide the music.

Here, in the one recording I have of the staff reading, are some of those musicians: Nina McConigley, Gerald Maa, Greg Wrenn, Zachary Watterson, Avery Slater, Ted Thomspon, Christian Anton Gerard and, at the very end, myself.


As I think about the year to come, and all the success it will bring to the people who were beside me this year, I am moved to close this post with the fabulous Eugene Cross, in living color, reading a section from his short story, ‘Hunters.’ The full story can be read here at Hobart.

4 September, 2009

Toast to this Indie!

As a way of expressing my thanks to the bookstores at which I read, I offer up my blog-space to the owners so they can say whatever comes to mind. Some of the earlier readings were at bigger stores where, for obvious reasons, it was not possible for me to make this offer nor indeed for them to accept. So here is the first such from Rachel Trauger, at the Doylestown Bookshop where I read today with Rachel Pastan.


If you’ve ever been a returning customer of an independent bookstore, you might be familiar with the bare facts of the independent vs. chain debate that are often brought up to explain why local shops are so great to have around. You might have heard already that 25% more of the money spent on books at an independent goes back into the community, or that independents are more than twice as likely to donate to charity. [Source: Indie Bound –]. The arguments are practical in their persuasion, but they’re not my main reason for loving independents. My reason is far more sentimental.

There are currently 12 people on staff at the Doylestown Bookshop, including me. Eight of us work 40 hour weeks. Eight have been here for at least two years. Our makeup is similar to that of a small office: we are around each other constantly; some of us are “lifers,” some of us are content for the moment, and some of us are actively using this place as a stepping stone for bigger (if not necessarily better) things. Yet, we’ve got a bonding advantage over small offices in the fact that we are all “book people.” We don’t have many conflicting personality quirks because our main quirk is the same: we’d rather stay in and read.

As voracious readers often are, my co-workers are sensitive, perceptive, and quick-witted. There’s no better company than these people. I’ve come to know their husbands and wives, their mothers, their grandmothers, and their dogs. I’ve joined two of their book clubs and discovered new literary loves that I would not have thought to read otherwise – Shirley Jackson, Suzanne Collins, Charles Burns. I’ve laughed until my stomach hurt nearly every work day since January 2009, which is approximately the time I let go of my reservations and let myself settle here. It’s not infrequent that you’ll find me here at the store half an hour after punching out, lost to time in a co-worker’s story.

Having worked at a chain before (for groceries, not books), my manager’s comment upon my hiring that “the owners are really hands on with the business and in the store almost every day” made me immediately anxious. At a chain, “the owners” are people to be feared: CEOs making their monthly visits to the store demanding that our shirts be tucked in, our posture be straight, and socializing with anyone other than the customer not occur.

But at the bookshop, the owners aren’t suited, scary CEOS. They’re Pat and Phil. Pat sings karaoke with our staff at the store’s annual holiday party and Phil nervously laughs over the store’s intercom when he has to make an announcement. They buy a cake or pizza whenever an employee leaves. When one of us has a problem, they will commit themselves for hours—seriously, hours—to helping us find the best solution. They’re maternal and paternal types: open with their criticism but free with their compliments, too.

Financial benefits considered, my reason for supporting independents is to keep this spirit of familial cooperation and happiness at work — yes, happiness at work! — alive, if only in one cozy little nook of the community. I’m not saying you won’t find the same type of atmosphere at a chain. I just know for a fact that you can find it here, and it will likely always be my impression of independents, even after I’ve moved on from the Bookshop.

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.