As a writer, I read a lot, always looking for new styles and interesting turns of phrase. Joanna Scott has become my new favorite author. I quickly ran through her book, Follow Me, in a week. I couldn’t put it down and wanted to enjoy every word of this consuming, at once bitter and sweet, story that spans several generations of women. Mistaken identities, family complications, love, and a sense of place dominate the books intertwining themes. At points I loved and hated all of the main characters, a sign that Joanna Scott is capable of creating personalities that are so true to life that I have found myself thinking about them as if they are my neighbors and friends.
Even more lovely and intriguing than the plot twists and turns, Joanna Scott uses language that made me realize that English can be just as beautiful as any romance language. Her poignant sentiments are dramatic without being saccharin. For example, early on in the book one of the characters runs away from her life and family after a traumatic event. “But still she runs. Running, running, running. How many lives start over this way, by putting one foot in front of the other?”
I considered how many of us today must start over because our investments have decreased so dramatically in value or because we, or someone in our family, lost a job. Starting over is frightening and painful. And yet, Joanna Scott is right: starting over is simply putting one foot in front of the other in a different direction. What I find so inspiring about Follow Me is that its characters are not afraid to start over. Indeed, they find it almost impossible to not immediately start over when life doesn’t go their way. A lesson that at least bears consideration, if not emulation, by all of us.
The Hachette Book Group has a fantastic line-up of book releases this year. I just finished Eat, Drink, and Be From Mississippi by Nanci Kincaid. I wanted a book that would lift me up and make me feel more hopeful, and that’s exactly what Nanci Kincaid delivers.
We are presented with a family in Mississippi that is very typical of what we might think of as a traditional small town, southern family. By the end of the book, we are witness to the formation of a new family, mostly self-chosen, 3000 miles from Mississippi that personifies the “resurgence of collective possibility”.
Family is a funny thing: in the traditional sense, it’s an entity created by luck of the draw, people who are tied together by biology, and sometimes grow together and sometimes grow apart. Kincaid explores a new kind of family – one that people choose, either consciously or subconsciously. They fight as much as traditional families, and they also love fiercely. They believe in one another, even in the darkest hours. They are drawn to one another.
Through the whole book, I thought about this idea of having a calling, of being drawn to someone, or something, without any true justification. Could be a career, or a certain city, particular people, or a cause you care about. It overtakes you — no one tells you that you must dedicate yourself to this person, place, or ideal. You are just compelled to.
This is cause for great hope for all of us. Some of the characters in the book took a good long time to find their calling, others found it very quickly, and others thought they found it and then realized that they actually belonged some place else. It’s never too late, or too early, to find our place in the world. And sometimes that place shifts, and the best we can do is know that the Universe knows better than we do. One things is for certain: if you are open to your calling finding you at every turn, then eventually it will.
If you’re looking for a quirky, off-beat adventure, Clyde Edgerton’s new book, The Bible Salesman, is for you. My contacts over at Hachette Book Group sent me an advance copy to read through and at first I was skeptical. I’m not a religious person so I had a hard time imagining that I’d enjoy a book about a Bible salesman. However, I trust the insight and taste of Hachette so I gave it a shot.
Hachette Book Group USA has put out another book that I fell in love with. (The first set of books from Hachette that caught my attention were those by Stephenie Meyer. I was thrilled to learn that Twilight is being made into a movie set to open on December 12, 2008! This latest book, Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan, was a more difficult read, though a call to action that is timely and necessary. The book is a collection of 5 short stories by Akpan, a Jesuit priest originally from Nigeria who is now living and teaching in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Akpan’s is certainly not the first set of stories to chronicle the trouble life of people across Africa. What is unique about the collection is that it is told entirely from the perspective of children. Because of their resiliency, children are able to see the light and dark, simultaneously, in many situations where adults see only one aspect or the other. Children are on a quest for joy, for resolution, and most certainly for peace. As Frank McCourt said in the trilogy of books about his own life, children keep moving forward because it’s the only thing they know how to do. Akpan’s characters embrace that philosophy and take us along with them for the journey.
To be sure, the circumstances are horrifying – tribal wars, destruction, rape, poverty, starvation. I sometimes had to put the book down because each page is so densely packed with raw emotion and brutally honest storytelling. There is no sugar-coating here. What kept me coming back and reading late into the night was Akpan’s intensely visual story telling that has us bear witness to what’s happening in countries all across Africa. We are unable to turn away as we make our way through the book and we feel compelled, even obligated, to do something, to say something, to change something. Through literature, he found his voice while also giving a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves.
Say You’re One of Them was recently reviewed in USA Today. And today, there is a front page article in USA Today on Americans who are finding purpose in Africa.