Archive for February, 2007

Interview: J. Peder Zane

Posted: February 28, 2007 in Author Interview

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J. Peder Zane is the Book Review Editor and Books Columnist for the Raleigh/Durham News & Observer, positions he’s held since 1996. He’s also edited two of my personal favorite books on books: Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading and The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.

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The Top Ten is his latest book. It features a collection of the top 10 favorite books of 125 outstanding contemporary writers. Not only is it a great resource, but it’s also fascinating to see what’s influenced both your favorite writers and writers you may not have “met” yet. These lists are really somewhat revealing, more so than you might think. Authors I previously thought I had nothing in common with turned out to share some of my favorite books. That could lead a girl to re-evaluate things a bit.

Mr. Zane is a member of the board of the National Book Critics Circle, and despite the fact he’s very much in “crunch time” right now, as the NBCC feverishly works to choose which books to honor with their awards this year, he very kindly agreed to an interview:

1. What inspired you to create ‘The Top 10’? How long did the process take, start to finish?

We have the great fortune to live in an age when almost every book that’s ever been printed is at our fingertips. Mega-bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, online retailers like Amazon.com, and better communication among libraries seem to offer a reader’s paradise. However, choice can create confusion, possibly paralysis. When anything’s possible, it can be hard to know what to do – what to read.

Folks such as Oprah and Don Imus have had such success recommending books because people are desperate for guidance. While they have made solid picks, I wanted something more. I asked myself: who can give the best advice? The answer, of course, was great writers.

I envisioned “The Top Ten” as a long response to a simple question: what to read next? Through their lists, my contributors give 544 answers – that’ how many books they named, each of which is described in “The Top Ten.”

While intriguing bibliophiles – who will get new insights into the writings of Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Annie Proulx, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Alice Hoffman and the other contributors by seeing what they read – I believe “The Top Ten” will prove especially useful to book club members looking for satisfying suggestions and librarians and bookstore folks eager to turn readers on to great works in a variety of genres.

I also hope that readers will compile their own top ten lists – so far more than 140 readers have posted theirs at my website, http://www.toptenbooks.net. This exercise is fun and informative as it really pushes you to think about what you like and why you like it. Though some people are intimidated by the idea, concerned that others will judge their intelligence by their picks, the one thing the writers make clear through their 544 picks is that there are no right or wrong answers. Great books are the books that mean the most to each of us.

I started “The Top Ten” in 2004, after the publication of my first book, “Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading” (W.W. Norton).

2. How complicated was it to wrangle lists out of this number of writers? What was the most challenging part of the project?

I worked almost exclusively through email, sending letters through extremely helpful publicists at various publishing houses. Then I’d wait! I’d only send a few letters out at a time. Each time someone said yes, I’d add their name to the “participating writers include” section of my letter. As that list got longer, my success rate went up.

Most of the writers were more than happy to provide the lists, though they found my simple request to be quite complicated. Their enthusiasm about the project was my first sign that the book would fly.

Some of the authors were concerned about picking just ten books – the great Mary Gaitskill has an essay in “The Top Ten” addressing that issue. I assuaged (almost) all of them by noting that while I was limiting each of them individually, it was in the spirit of a remarkably inclusive project. At the end of the day, the 125 writers named 544 different books – an average of four unique titles per book.

And there’s another inspiration for “The Top Ten” – to have a book filled with hundreds of other books each of which is considered by at least one distinguished writer to be among the ten greatest works of fiction ever published.

The most challenging part of the project was putting the summaries together. “The Top Ten” offers synopses of all 544 of those books. For various reasons – including the need to avoid overlap – I did not ask the writers to describe their picks. Fortunately, I work with a great range of talented critics with intimate knowledge of each and every one of the books

3. Were you an avid reader as a child? What were your favorite books?

My dirty little secret: I didn’t read much as a child. I was, shall we say, an “active child” (i.e. a rowdy pain in the neck). I became a reader in high school. If I liked an author’s works I’d keep reading him/her. My first loves were Faulkner, Hamsun, Austen, Kawabata and Wodehouse.

4. Who are your favorite contemporary writers?

In all honesty, I love the 125 writers who contributed to “The Top Ten” – that’s why I asked them to be in the book. “Henry and Clara” by Thomas Mallon made my person Top Ten list and “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell is one of the best books I’ve read in the last five years. If you put a gun to my head and said “name one living author who rocks your world” it would be Pynchon.

5. What are you currently reading? Anything you’d recommend?

As a member of the board of the National Book Critics Circle I’m reading all 30 finalists for our awards, which we will announce on March 8. Two finalists in the memoir are extraordinary: “The Lost,” in which Daniel Mendelsohn recounts his search for memories of six family members murdered in the Holocaust, and “Strange Piece of Paradise,” in which Terri Jentz tries to find the man who nearly murdered her and a friend in a random act of brutal violence in 1977.

6. What projects are you working on now?

I edit the Book Review section and write a weekly column on books for The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. That’s keeping me busy as I try to figure out my next book.

7. As a public library employee myself I have to ask, what role have libraries played, throughout your life, in your love of books and reading?

It was my high school librarian who sparked my love of reading. She was always handing us books, promising us we’d love them – if we’d only give them a chance. Often I didn’t. One day I did. And that, as they say, made all the difference.

Today, the library is working the same magic for my three daughters who are, blessedly, getting an earlier start than their old man.

My thanks to J. Peder Zane for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my interview questions.

If you’ve paid any attention to my past rants (and if you haven’t WHY NOT?), I’ve always been pretty consistently down on TV as an unacceptable way to spend time. Whine, whine, whine, “people don’t read enough because they’re always watching stoopid TV.” What are they thinking, don’t they all see? They’re ruining their brains!

Now it’s time for me to come clean. I’m Lisa, and I’m addicted to ’24.’

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It started out pretty simply. Realizing I’m a pop culture illiterate (embarrassingly so) I decided to watch one episode, to see what everyone seemed to think was SO GREAT. Nine times out of ten that gives me a reason to sneer and feel superior, because I’m so almighty immune to TV addiction. Blah, blah, blah.

But then one episode became two. Then “just one more” made it three. Suddenly, there were frantic calls home (since I take my daughter to theatre classes on Monday nights and can’t be in front of the TV) to my husband with the plaintive cry, “DON’T FORGET TO RECORD 24!!!” (sub-text, “Or I’ll harm you”).

I’m not proud. No, not proud at all. I can admit when I’m beaten.

’24’ has definitely left a mark on me. It’s given me a new edge of paranoia I haven’t had since 9/11. Though embarrassing to admit in public, the entertainment value’s just way too high not to tell you my story about how this program has gotten into my brain, leading me to act irrationally paranoid. Either I don’t have enough of a monitor on things that should be kept quiet, or I’m just way too fond of a good story to know when to shut up. The jury’s out on that one. Here’s my story, in all its weirdness:

I was awoken out of a half-sleep a few weeks ago (the most recent episode of ’24,’ in which a nuclear bomb was detonated in Los Angeles, still obviously on my mind), by a horrific noise outside. It sounded like a jet cruising right down the street, so low I thought (in my bleary state) it was crashing. Not one to panic alone, I woke my husband with the dire tale about the jet that was quite obviously doomed. Right here. In Algonquin. Where, of course, every terrorist dreams of striking. We heard the the horrible sound repeated, this time with the flash of orange light any rational person would associate with the crash of a jet airliner in close proximity. Right? RIGHT?! That’s completely rational.

Pulses pounding. Hearts racing. Then it hit the both of us, pretty much at the same time.

“Umm. It’s a snow plow.”

Horrific noise. Flashing lights. Not terrorism, but a snow plow.

At least I know my fight-or-flight response is well-honed.

Now, the family makes sure to let me know when a plane’s crashing outside. Coincidentally, that seems to happen pretty unfailingly on snowy days. I think that’s mighty considerate of them, don’t you?

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On February 19 I had the pleasure of interviewing former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins via telephone. Mr. Collins served two terms as Poet Laureate, from 2001 – 2003. He was also selected as New York State Poet for 2004.

Billy Collins has published several collections of poetry (bibliography below, from wikipedia.com), and he’s been included in many anthologies.

LG: Were you an avid reader as a child? What were your favorite books?

BC: I was not only an avid reader but I used to pretend to read before I could read. I was an only child and that lead to a very rich reading life. When my parents would have people over I would pretend to be reading. I would have an encyclopedia on my lap and I’d pretend to be reading it. I knew which way to turn it because of the pictures.

Later, when I was able to read, I read all the Hardy boys, and the Albert Payson Terhune books about Lad and Lassie. They’re basically all the same story, with the names changed. I read Black Beauty and The Yearling. Those I read a number of times and had them read to me.

My parents didn’t have a TV until everyone else had a TV. We had the collected Dickens in the house, and my mother said, half-jokingly, if I read all of Dickens we could get a TV. I didn’t read all of Dickens.

Mother Goose is the original inspiration for all poets. That’s where they get an idea of rhythm and rhyme. My mother had memorized a lot of poetry as a schoolgirl. She went to a rural school in Ontario, Canada. She housed hundreds and hundreds of lines of poetry. If any occasion arose she’d have a few lines of poetry about it.

LG: When did you start writing poetry?

BC: I don’t think anyone escapes childhood, or adolescence, without writing some really horrible, usually lovesick, poetry, poems of a misunderstood adolescent who was convinced no one in the course of history had ever felt this way before.

I didn’t write my first book until I was in my 40s. It took me a long time to figure it out, or find my voice, or combine these different influences so it sounded like me. I was writing all along, kind of on the side. I went to grad school and began teaching literature in college. I’ve been doing that most of my life. I used to be a professor who wrote poetry. Now I’m a poet who happens to be a professor.

LG: How many hours a day do you write? Do you keep a strict schedule?

BC: I have no work habits whatsoever. I don’t write every day, so often it would be zero hours per day. I kind of hold onto a romantic view. People say in order to be a writer you have to write all the time. The poem will come along when it arrives. I try to be on the lookout for creative opportunities, something that might trigger a poem, but I don’t sit down in the morning and try to commit an act of literature before lunch.

LG: That sounds a lot different than writing fiction.

BC: It is very different from fiction writing. As Hemingway said you always knock off for the day in the middle of a scene, but poets have to restart themselves all the time. Poets return much more often to the blank page.

I heard about a survey once, the results of which are poets are more inclined to suicide because of the anxiety of starting afresh. Depression visits poets more frequently. You can write a lyric poem in a couple of hours. You don’t know if the next poem will start the next hour or a month from now. Poetry’s known for its brevity, but that’s also the bad news for writers.

LG: Do you do a lot of re-writing?

BC: Less and less. I try to make it right the first time. The conceptual journey of the poetry is all done in one sitting, from beginning to middle to end. I hardly ever change the movement of the poem as it navigates itself. What I do change are matters of rhythm and sound, finding an adjective. But I never go back and say this is all wrong.

LG: Do you write on the computer or longhand?

BC: I write with a pencil, always longhand. I make a mess and scratch things out. A pencil seems very fluid. I put it on the computer at the very last minute, when I think it’s done. On the computer it looks fixed in place and it’s pretty much done. When you put it on a computer you see what it looks like. The look of prose is irrelevant, but the poem has a shape to it which is the result of line breaks and stanza breaks, so you can see what you couldn’t see with the pencil. Shapeliness is one of the attractive aspects of poetry. When I get it on the screen I do some shaping to make it look right.

LG: Do any other genres, besides poetry, appeal to you?

BC: Not really. I think it’s sort of like in music. It’s enough to be able to play one fairly well. That’s the question musicians never get, do you play any other instruments.

I write some prose, I write essays on poetry. Criticism. I wouldn’t know what I was doing if I wrote a short story.

LG: What writers have influenced you the most?

BC: That’s a tough question. There are too many to name. It’s not even clear the degree of influence. Often people will spout names like Yeats, Coleridge, etc., but I think these are flags of convenience. It’s hard to think of something that hasn’t influenced me, positively or negatively.

I’ve taught literature in college for so many years. Every semester I re-read Emily Dickinson, Wordsworth, Marvel. I read them all semester after semester.

What I think of as an influence is a poet who makes you jealous. It’s a polite way of saying other writers inflame you with jealousy. Driven by a jealous rage you go off and try to write something like that, or try to steal from them in order to exact revenge.

LG: I’ve read that you consider your poetry to be “hospitable,” which some refer to as accessible. How do you distinguish between hospitable and poetry that’s considered difficult or obscure?

BC: I think I discovered that you can write clearly in clear language and still have access to areas of great mystery. To write doesn’t mean to get stuck on a literal level. There are poets who follow etiquette. I write in sentences. I use standard punctuation, beginning with a standard note the reader can identify with. Once that engagement is made the poet can head off in less familiar directions and take the reader on an imaginative journey in which the writer doesn’t know where he’s going.

A poem begins in clarity and ends in mystery, if a poet is able to understand that distinction and knows when to be clear and when to be mysterious. It’s important to know which cards to turn over, and which to leave face down. In the worst poetry all the cards are face down.

LG: Aside from writing, what are your pastimes?

BC: I play the piano. I have a dog I’m obsessed with.

LG: What kind of dog?

BC: She’s a mutt, mostly collie. It goes back to those Albert Payson Terhune books. I live in New York City, on the Hudson River in the Village. That’s a good opportunity for walking.

LG: What projects are you working on currently?

BC: I’m finishing a manuscript but I don’t know if it’s done yet. I think the publisher would like it but I’m not sure it’s ready. I don’t want to rush it into print. I don’t know how many aces I have.

LG: What advice would you give to aspiring poets?

BC: That goes back to that influence question. Just read. Find poets that make you jealous. The only hope you have in what would be called originality is through a process of imitation. It’s a matter of getting rid of the young poet’s delusion that your experiences are so original that you’re going to announce this in original language. What inspires poetry is poetry. It’s not the muse. It’s not nature. It’s not emotion. It’s other poetry that inspires poetry. When you write poetry you’re adding your voice to this long historic voice. You need to listen to these for a long time before you even know what your voice would possibly add. Read widely and quickly. Don’t waste your time on poetry that doesn’t talk to you.

LG: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

BC: Thank you.

Special thanks to Steven Barclay, of Steven Barclay Agency, for putting me in touch with Mr. Collins.

Bibliography

Poems

The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems, (2005, ISBN 0-375-50382-X)

Nine Horses (2002, ISBN 0-375-50381-1), named a notable book of the year by the New York Times Book Review

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001, ISBN 0-375-50380-3), named a notable book of the year by the New York Times Book Review

Picnic, Lightning (1998, ISBN 0-8229-4066-3)

The Art of Drowning (1995, ISBN 0-8229-3893-6), which was a Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize finalist

Questions About Angels (1991, ISBN 0-8229-4211-9), the winner (two years later) of the National Poetry Series competition

The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988, ISBN 1-55728-023-1)

Video Poems (1980)

Pokerface (1977)

Anthologies

180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Everyday Life (2005, ISBN 0-8129-7296-1)

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, (2003 ISBN 0-8129-6887-5)

The Best American Poetry 2006, Scribner Poetry, New York (2006, ISBN 0-7432-2967-9-8)

Copyright © 2007 Lisa Guidarini

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Kevin Sessums’s memoir Mississippi Sissy was one of an armload of review books the Holtzbrinck group sent me recently. In that pile of general and genre fiction, this one leapt out at me immediately. Not only was it the only work of nonfiction in the box, but it’s not everyday you see a title with Mississippi in the title, much less one with as engaging a word as “sissy” to go with it. It gets the attention, it really does.

Just a catchy title isn’t enough, of course, if the book itself doesn’t engage. In this case the style engaged me immediately, and the authentic Mississippi voice was one I could identify with, coming from that state myself.

Sessum’s book tells the story of growing up gay in 1960s Mississippi. It may take a moment for the immensity of that to hit home, but considering this is KKK territory you may rest assured this was one rough ride. Mississippi isn’t exactly a state noted for being liberal, nor especially tolerant of anyone the slightest bit “different.” It was a rough ride made worse by Sessum’s uber-macho father, whose disappointment with his son played a major role in his growing up. Imagine being everything your father despises, yet wanting so badly to be a good son and make him proud. The difficulty of his childhood is painful and poignant, and Sessum reacts by shutting down his emotions, in an attempt not to embarrass his father further.

In contrast, his mother thought his cross-dressing cute and funny, at least until her husband began reacting more violently. If Sessum’s father hadn’t been killed in a car accident the violence and anger would surely have escalated.

Closely following his father’s death his mother also died from cancer, leaving the boy orphaned from a young age. With his mother Kevin had enjoyed a much closer relationship. She gave him the feeling of being loved and wanted, and there was also a certain playful camaraderie between them. They shared secrets, as well as private jokes. Her death left Kevin adrift, disconnected from his immediate family.

Mississippi Sissy is a courageous, warm, and often poignant memoir of what it is to be different from the mainstream in an unforgiving environment. It’s also a testament to Kevin Sessum’s spirit that he was able to weather it all and go on to become a writer known for his celebrity interviews. He’s an interviewer celebrities seem to trust implicitly, and there’s a quality to his writing in his memoir that may give the reader a good idea why that is. He has a genuineness, as well as an unforced honesty, that lends an especially compelling quality to his writing. I’d recommend Mississippi Sissy without hesitation as a truly well-written memoir.

Author Interview: Kevin Sessums

Posted: February 21, 2007 in Author Interview

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Kevin Sessums is currently a contributing editor at Allure magazine after spending fourteen years at Vanity Fair in that same capacity. Before joining Vanity Fair, he was executive editor for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. His work has also appeared in Elle, Travel + Leisure, Playboy, POZ, Out, and Show People magazines. He lives in New York City.

I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Sessums after reading and reviewing his memoir Mississippi Sissy, which will be published in March, 2007.

LG: Mississippi Sissy reveals a challenging and often painful childhood. How difficult was it to revisit that and open it up to the world?

KS: There were times when it was very painful, yes. When I was writing the section about my mother dying I found myself very depressed. I couldn’t figure it out at first – why this depression. I was approaching the book as a writer, not an orphaned son – crafting paragraphs and sentences and finding the right words and focusing on the arc of the narrative. But then when I found myself holding onto the railing of my terrace at my summer place in Provinetown and convincing myself not to jump – I had never had thoughts like that before – it finally dawned on me I was dealing with some very deep, surpressed emotions regarding my mother’s death. I was literally reliving those months. And once I realized that the writing of this book was more than “writing” I was able to deal with the emotions that were surfacing.

Mostly the writing of it was like an act of prayer. I really felt at times as if my fingers were being guided by ghosts who were finally finding some solace after trying to convince me to write this book from beyond for many, many years. But now, the publishing process, is just the opposite. Everything has become an act of will in this phase of it all.

LG: Do you feel your early life experiences would have been any different if you’d have grown up someplace other than the South? Being from Mississippi myself, I know it’s an understatement to say attitudes there are conservative. Do you feel living in Mississippi intensified your situation?

KS: As I’ve said many times, telling someone you’re from Mississippi either stops or starts conversations. My life was, yes, heightened by living there and suffering through my childhood during the Civil Rights movement down there. I always identified with the African Americans because of their “otherness” in that world and how they were fighting back and claiming their place in a world that didn’t want them.

LG: Some critics have said the quality of serious literary fiction is steadily declining, and that readers are settling for a lot more mediocre writing. A few critics go so far as to say it’s the “dumbing down” of readers themselves that’s driving the quality of writing down. What’s your take on that?

KS: I’ve contributed to the dumbing down of readers in my writing celebrity profiles, I ‘m sure. At least it’s easy to blame me for it. Though I’ve always tried to lift the genre a bit. Writing Mississippi Sissy is a way to make amends for any contribution I made to this dumbing down. At least I hope it is.

LG: What writers do you most admire? Which have had the most influence on your own writing?

KS: I’m a southerner so Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty meant the world to me growing up when I discovered the joys of reading. I also like Michael Chabon a lot (Kavalier and Clay is one of my favorite books) and Ian McEwan and Michael Cunningham.

LG: What projects are you currently working on? What’s next for you after Mississippi Sissy?

KS: I still write celebrity cover stories – now for Allure magazine – and have started a novel about a heterosexual love story set in Provincetown and have an idea about a non-fiction book set in Africa.

LG: What have you been reading lately? Anything in particular you’d recommend?

KS: I’ve loved Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost and Colm Toibin Mothers and Sons (I also loved his The Master) and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children and have just started reading Andre Aciman’s Call Me Your Name. In recent years I’ve loved The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst.

LG: Do you have any predictions on the upcoming Oscars? Any films you think particularly stood out last year, whether or not they were nominated for an award?

KS: I don’t make predictions … I did love the German film The Lives of Others nominated for Best Foreign Film.

LG: Aside from your literary endeavors, what makes life interesting for you? Is there something you’re particularly passionate about?

KS: I love riding my bike on the bike trails in Provincetown. Love going to the theatre. Love going to the opera . Love falling to sleep with my dog curled up next to me. The older I get the simpler life becomes …

LG: AS a public library employee I have to ask, have libraries played any role in your love of books and reading?

KS: As a kid, I loved going to the library in my hometown and perusing the books – and sneaking a peak at the ones that the librarian kept under her desk when she thought they were too racy. It also subscribed to magazines and newspapers I couldn’t find anywhere else so went in to read those every week. I checked out a lot of modern poetry – some books of it over and over and over.

I remember one big thick silver paperback with a modern looking cover of black lettering and silkscreened-like black and white pictures of poets on its cover I think I must have checked it out 20 times. As an older person in college, I once went back into the library to find that book. And there was the card still in it with my signature over and over and over written on the card. I don’t think anybody else had ever checked it out. But that one book meant the world to me.

I still think of it – and the Forest Public Library – often and the solace I found in that book and in the building. I learned what it meant to be contemplative in the quiet there. There was comfort knowing that all those words were organized all around me and waiting to offer me some sort of salvation I could not then quite comprehend. I still can’t, to tell you the truth: syllables as saints, I guess …

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Kevin Sessums’s blog can be found at: http://www.mississippisissy.com/blog/

Interviewing a Poet Laureate

Posted: February 20, 2007 in Uncategorized

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The down and dirty truth of what my biggest interview to date actually looked like. All the pink Post Its contain questions I feverishly copied out of the Paris Review Interviews, Volume I, the night before I spoke with Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 – 2003. I believe in preparation, obviously.

I’ll get the transcription cleaned up and post that here soon. It was all so fascinating it was easy to forget I was supposed to be WRITING ALL THIS DOWN. I did get the majority of it, but the star-struck factor was an obstacle.

N.B.: You’ll also see, in the background, what’s actually an inflatable space shuttle. This was the model for yesterday’s project, which was to make a space shuttle out of styrofoam, as Youngest Child had that due today. In a twist of irony that doesn’t even surprise me, Youngest Child is home sick from school. All that feverish scraping of styrofoam could have been a more leisurely, less frenzied endeavor. But that wouldn’t be life chez moi now, would it?

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Life in Kenya, along the unstable border with Somalia, is grueling. People there scrape out a living, moving from place to place in a semi-nomadic existence. Food, shelter and protection from violence are full-time worries. Providing children with books is a luxury the people there simply cannot afford.

Books, as we know, expand the mind. They provide light, hope, and an escape from the rigors of daily life. They also give children a reason to dream, opening them to new ideas while also helping them pass long, wearisome hours.

Here in the United States we are fortunately blessed with libraries, ensuring that even the poorest have access to books. In Kenya life isn’t quite that simple.

A group of authors, lead by Masha Hamilton, have started an organization called Authors for African Literacy. Hamilton, along with nine other authors so far, are sending books to these children in Kenya. They’re asking others to do the same, donating boxes of books to these impoverished, nutritionally and educationally malnourished children.

Masha Hamilton is the author of the novel The Camel Bookmobile, which will be published this year by HarperCollins. Her book is fiction, but the story behind it is real.

From Publishers Weekly:

” Hamilton’s captivating third novel (after 2004’s The Distance Between Us) follows Fiona Sweeney, a 36-year-old librarian, from New York to Garissa, Kenya, on her sincere but naïve quest to make a difference in the world. Fi enlists to run the titular mobile library overseen by Mr. Abasi, and in her travels through the bush, the small village of Mididima becomes her favorite stop. There, Matani, the village teacher; Kanika, an independent, vivacious young woman; and Kanika’s grandmother Neema are the most avid proponents of the library and the knowledge it brings to the community. Not everyone shares such esteem for the project, however. Taban, known as Scar Boy; Jwahir, Matani’s wife; and most of the town elders think these books threaten the tradition and security of Mididima. When two books go missing, tensions arise between those who welcome all that the books represent and those who prefer the time-honored oral traditions of the tribe. Kanika, Taban and Matani become more vibrant than Fi, who never outgrows the cookie-cutter mold of a woman needing excitement and fulfillment, but Hamilton weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose with the lofty theme of Western-imposed “education” versus a village’s perceived perils of exposure to the developed world. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

If you’d like to make a donation to Kenya’s Mobile Library, see The Camel Bookmobile website for more details. A group of people could donate a box of books, to help minimize shipping costs. You may also donate money directly to the drive to help pay shipping, by following the link on their webpage. Amazon.com offers the opportunity to purchase books for the project, as well, via their website. You’ll just need to pay a little extra to cover the international shipping.

Seeing children’s faces light up at the sight of a book is priceless, especially when you know these are children for whom books are a huge luxury. Sending a book to an impoverished child gives the satisfaction of knowing we’ve turned on one little light, halfway around the globe. That’s one little light with the potential to grow and light the whole world.

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