On January 23,1923, Deb Nance, blogger at Readerbuzz, and close friend and I headed to “H Town” (Houston) to attend the Margaret Root-Brown Reading Series, Inprint’s presentation of two contemporary novelists reading from their current works and being interviewed. Deb has had season tickets for years now, but this is my first year to participate. We have heard Poet Laureates, Nobel Prize for Literature winners, and several outstanding authors (and interviewers) already this season.
We drove up to Emanu El, a venue I had never been to before, excited about seeing in person the authors of The Book of Goose, Yiyun Li and Matthew Salesses, author of The Sense of Wonder.
Li read the beginning of her book so that the audience could “hear” the voices of the two women characters of the novel at the age of thirteen. Her book is a narrative based on the strong friendships of women which have lasted since childhood beginnings. The two girls are discussing how to “grow” happiness. One can see that these are not two ordinary girls, but ones who think profound thoughts and share them with each other.
Salesses, on the other hand uses the metaphor of basketball as a symbol for life. He was a Houstonian and a product of the Imprint workshops and grants, as well as an alumnus of the University of Houston’s Creative Writing program. His novel, The Sense of Wonder, has been described as “full of swagger and heart.” It is somewhat autobiographically based.
The two novels were extremely different, but the interview and the interplay of ideas between the two novelists kept me rapt. Friendships are a common theme, but the friendships in these novels were under very different circumstances and between very different characters. I wondered if the two authors would have anything in common. Both novels deal with one making his/her life what he or she thinks is possible. Timeless characters in The Book of Goose offset the team/basketball friendship of the young man in Wonder, but in the developing of both the plots and characters, these two novels encouraged the reader to think along the same lines and even draw similar conclusions. The two authors complemented each other, and sometimes described writing processes and techniques that were totally unalike.
It was a night out that grew our minds and fed our souls–a night to remember.
Some time ago, I began what I thought was going to be “a typical immigrant story” on my Kindle app. I am referring to Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Published in 2013, it tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, star-crossed lovers. I began reading around last Thanksgiving (2019) and because I often overlook books “parked” on my Kindle, and because I became involved with Cybils reading demands, I forgot about the book. But I didn’t forget about the story. This past week I finished it.
It’s fascinating peek into Nigerian culture and mindset kept me reading as Ifemelu, an exchange student at Princeton prepares to return to her native Nigeria. Obinze, her childhood best friend and “sweetheart” thinks about her imminent return in alternating chapters. Will the couple resume their early college relationship in Nigeria? Or has too much occurred in both their lives for this to happen?
Adichie’s story easily fits the genre of Literary Fiction with its sweeping descriptions, complex character development, and the message presented by Ifemelu’s blog entires on race, set both in America and in Nigeria. As she searches for her roots, Ifemelu finds her self and her destiny. It is a darned good read, but not your usual immigrant story.
Tru and Nelle and Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale, both written by G. Neri and illustrated by Sarah Watts, are about the childhood and teenage friendships of Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). When interviewed as to why he wrote the refreshing novels, Neri said he “used their (Capote and Lee’s) childhood friendship in Monroeville, Alabama as fodder for (his) fiction.” The author continued, “I was intrigued that no one had ever written about that friendship, especially for young people.” (Neri, interviewed in “Taking with G. Neri” / Books and Writers (magazine)
Neri recommends the first novel, Tru and Nelle for second through sixth graders and T and N: A Christmas Story for middle school students. At the end of the first book, Tru leaves Monroeville where he had spent the summer with his aunt for New York City to live with his mother and stepfather. The second novel begins with Tru running away from a military school his mother had placed him in as an attempt to “man him up,” and he heads to Monroeville. There he is awaited by Nelle and Big Boy, the notorious detective story enthusiasts and “agents” from childhood who are now growing into their pre-teen and teenage years. The setting is 1930’s Monroeville, home of the Jim Crow laws, the Klu Klux Klan and Southern Injustice. All characters, events, and places are “drawn from real life,” characters and events. Beginning with Tru’s Aunt’s house burning to the ground, leaving the family homeless at Christmas, an event Nelle’s father feels he is responsible for, the tale is described as “speculative fiction in search of poetic truth.” Both books are funny, sad, touching and well-researched.
The first book is deliberately reminiscent of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the second deals with teenage angst, search for sexual identity, and zaniness of the teen years. Both are excellent books.