I’ve started writing a new novel, which I will say, based on common sense and no experience, is nothing at all like being pregnant. However, writing does make my tastes change. Ask anyone at the store, especially Cat who runs the First Editions Club and is the person I’m most likely to be talking to about books (she reads everything. She seems to magically inhale books in her sleep), I’m a lot less likely to like a novel when I’m writing one myself. I have very little patience with books that are slow, or have plots that seem purposefully convoluted or aggressively artful. I feel like I’m trying so hard to be clear in my own writing, shouldn’t others have to be clear as well? I pick things up, I put things down. I don’t exactly trust my own judgment these days.
So when I tell you I like something right now, know that I like it a lot. We have two very special events in July with books I’m passionate about. If you’re anywhere near Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music (where both events will be held) you’re going to want to be there.
One of the questions that people like to ask authors is “What book changed you?” That’s a tough one, because there are plenty of books I’ve loved, books I’ve learned from, books that influenced me as a writer — but books that changed me fundamentally as a person? That’s a very short list: Charlotte’s Web, Underground Airlines, When Breath Becomes Air, and now I can add Hunger by Roxane Gay. It is harrowing, heartbreaking, moving, beautifully written, but even more than that, it woke me up to my own judgment. It made me aware that I was doing things, little subtle things, that were prejudiced and hurtful. In short, while telling her own story, Roxane Gay made me a more empathetic person. She showed me why it’s appropriate to mind my own business, have compassion for others, and to assume I don’t have all the facts when it comes to other people’s lives. And she did it all so kindly. I thought Hunger was a miracle of a book.
It’s also our July First Editions Club pick. It’s a book that’s far afield from what we usually send out, but if it can help other people, either because they too have lived through something horrible, or because they were judging the people who had suffered without even understanding what they were doing, then it was well worth getting behind. Read it, and be one of the fortunate ones who gets to hear Roxane Gay in person on July 13. She is such a vital and important voice in America now. If you have any question about that, read her essay collection, Bad Feminist. She can make you laugh your head off as skillfully as she can make you cry. (The essay about competitive Scrabble tournaments will always be my favorite.)
The second book I loved this month was written by Alan Alda, who is very possibly the nicest guy on the planet. Chances are good people will come to this event because they loved him in M*A*S*H or The West Wing, but the real event here is the book. Alda is one of those rare souls who manages to get his intelligence and charm down on paper, so that you feel he’s sitting next to you, telling you his story. His new book, the impossibly titled If I Understood What You Were Saying Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating is his quest to use the techniques he’s learned in acting to teach scientists and doctors how to better communicate what they know to laypeople. But in my opinion he wound up writing a book about how best to communicate. Period.
I’m no scientist, but I found what he had to say to be both fascinating and helpful. This is a book that will explain how to do a better job talking to, and really listening to, everyone in your life. Do you have a partner, a child, a parent, or friend, or colleague? This book is going to be meaningful. Are you in the sciences? Then it may well be doubly meaningful. And you’ll get to hear it all explained on July 18 by Alan Alda, who is so patient and clear you’ll wish he could just explain everything all the time. And if you’re in the market for some pure pleasure this summer, you should go ahead and read his backlist: Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned, and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. Basically everything this man does is entertaining and enlightening.
Who knows, maybe my new, more critical, reading self will be a good thing. It will certainly make my posts shorter, which is something I’m always trying to do. I hope to see you at both events. I feel like we’re the luckiest bookstore in the world: David Sedaris, John Grisham, Roxane Gay, Alan Alda, shop dogs. What more could anyone ask for?
Come visit soon.
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(Read along with Ann: Click any title in this post to order the book from our online store. Note: Alan Alda tickets are available here. Advance tickets for the Roxane Gay event have all been reserved, but there will still be plenty of seats available onsite on the day of the event, so come on out!)