Southern Easter

Easter tomorrow.

We’ll celebrate the Lamb with lamb,
and eggs, and tender green and growing things.
New life for all of us.

Like Martha, I dig in to prepare
with whipping and with chopping, and with
scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing.

Exhausted, I slip into the shower and luxuriate with
bubbles, and with lotion, and with
clean and dripping hair,

and with heat.

It’s far too late for Easter.

It’s far too hot for Easter.

All alone, I steal some time,
limp under the ceiling fan.
Just a few moments.

The blinds are drawn, but a breeze drifts through
the open windows.
It’s dim, but my eyelids flicker red and black
as the sun slips in and out of clouds.

The hum of mowers near and far
as men beat back encroaching entropy.

The whoosh of bathroom fans
sucking steam from sweet-scented air.

My head is full of drowsy buzz.

I am cooling.

I am drying.

I am dreaming.

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The Perfect Day

It is a day that one keeps in reserve as the perfect day. While going to work, accomplishing necessary tasks—housework, cooking, grocery shopping—it is the day in one’s daydreams. Sitting on the much-anticipated screened porch, rocking in a cushioned chair, reading, reading, reading, in perfect silence.

Except that it isn’t silent at all. Always, in the distance, the shush of cars and trucks on the interstate, miles away, yet persistently present. Hundreds of little birds, chirping away continuously, sweetly transforming me into Disney’s Cinderella. Less euphoniously, my neighbor’s chickens add a comic note, and occasionally, the barred owls in the woods confuse the day with nighttime calls. Even the breeze adds a murmur, lifts my hair, forces me to put my bookmark under my phone on the peacock table.

The screen door is on the latch, but it still voices a tiny creak in the wind. When David leaves it open, it blows back and forth. It opens on a rising scale, “Creeeeeeaaak!” and closes sliding down, “Creeeeeaaak. Bam!” The sound stirs an ancient memory somewhere deep within, although I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve had a screened door. Why is it so familiar, so soothing?

I can’t sit for another minute. Even though the cushion is soft, and the rocking soporific, I must move. I get up, walk through the house, up the stairs, into the dim family room, and plunk into another chair to write.

A perfect day.

The View from My Window

Right in the beginning of our renovation project, I started taking photos from my bedroom window, which is right above the new screened porch. Since the outside construction is finished, I realized that this photo-journal is complete! Here is the progress of the view from my window.

window-view-1-septic
This is the roof of the old porch showing the bald spot in the yard over the newly installed septic tank.
window-view-old-piers
Looking down where the old porch used to be. Now it’s just crumbling, old piers.
window-view-porch-1
The new piers are in, and the porch and breakfast room have floor joists.
window-view-porch-frame
Framing in progress on the porch and breakfast room.
window-view-rafters
Rafters coming up!
roof-complete
My new view! I love these shingles. I can still see my favorite elm tree, too.

Welcome to TheReaderWrites!

This is the daughter blog to my EatReadSleep.com, which I have maintained for four years now, but which really needed to become a blog that was all about book reviews. I have so much more to say, though! As a result of my desire to share even more with you, I have decided to launch this blog, which will be all about life, the universe, and everything. Anything you read below this post has been copied from EatReadSleep.com, but anything after this is new, original content.

Not that we will not talk about books! For me, though, as an avid reader and librarian, books are often both a jumping-off point to new ideas and a way to dig even more deeply into my passion du jour. Come with me and join in!

My obsession of the moment is home renovation. We have just begun a project to add a screened porch to our house and to enlarge our current kitchen. It is terrifying and thrilling. Let’s get started.

Sarah Bessey and Me

Several years ago, a pastor told me that the Bible’s teaching on women implied that women should never supervise men at work. At the time, I supervised two, so I told him it was too late. So he said that I should give them preference over the women I supervised, just because of their gender. I kid you not. Fast forward a few years, and a woman in our small group opined that a woman’s main role in the workplace is to make the men there feel better about themselves. Try as I might, I cannot find this chapter or verse in my Bible. Furthermore, I think my employer would be much more pleased if I followed the Bible’s real admonition to employees, which is to work for your employer with a great attitude, as if you were working for the Lord, instead of other people.* Apparently, though, no one in the room found her opinion sort of creepy except for me. There was more, but you can imagine my state of mind.

Jesus FeministIn my line of work, book titles run past my eyes all day long every day, and one day that title was Jesus Feminist. I tend to turn away from the word “feminist,” since it is so often allied with the hard-left, pro-choice crowd, but this was just too provocative, so I took a look, read the description, logged into my Amazon account, and made my first acquaintance with this Canadian pastor’s wife, blogger, and mommy.

We all have visions of our future lives when we are young, and having a full-time career was not part of my vision. Mother, wife, and maybe writer, yes. But I believe in a sovereign God, and a decade and a half ago, we went through a life-changing chain of events, and here I am, doing what I sincerely believe is the right thing to do—the honorable, loving, and responsible thing to do—and I have found happiness there. All day, every day, I am surrounded by brilliant, hardworking women who find great meaning in their work. I believe in a God who gifts people with the ability to make other lives better, and who puts each person in place for the good of all. The universe is not random. So how can someone else who believes in a sovereign God say that the way I lay down my life is a sin?

I opened Jesus Feminist and wept in the introduction. I sobbed through the first two chapters. I found someone who had been here before me, and she dealt with her wounds by reading the gospels over and over. She reminded me that Jesus treated women like people. He talked to them directly, against the custom of the day, and never treated them as “other.” She reprinted a Dorothy L. Sayer essay that I read decades ago that is still one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic of Jesus and women. Sarah Bessey reminded me, in her poetic, storyteller fashion, that Jesus truly loved me, and that’s all I really needed to hear. Some of the later chapters didn’t speak to me as much, but those first chapters were so powerful that this bright yellow paperback has sat on my desk, beside my laptop, ever since then. Not that I told anyone, though, because I knew how controversial she was, and I didn’t want to be met with either gasps or outrage.

Last summer was another life-changing time. Everyone knows that it was a summer of grief over my mother’s death, as well as months filled with unrelenting physical pain from the compressed discs in my neck causing nerve pain all the way down my arm, but I’ve never told the story of the deep wound gouged into my soul during this rough time.

David and I have moved around a lot in our lives. For the first twenty years of our marriage, we moved about every five years for David’s work. Sometimes the transitions were heartbreaking, but we met all kinds of people and learned a lot from them. We studied loads of theology, visited dozens of churches, and had long, intense discussions late into the night with some folks who are deeply lodged in my heart forever. By my best count, we have been members or long-term visitors of ten separate denominations, and more than one church for a couple of those. I feel old just saying that. We’ve hosted church in our house and helped to start a couple of churches from scratch. We’ve driven long distances to church for years a couple of times, just to be sure that the teaching and fellowship we were receiving were truly biblical. We knew of a small denomination that agreed with us that two seemingly opposing ideas were both Biblical, but we never lived near one of their churches until we lived here. We were passionately devoted members of this church for seven years—until last year. When my mother died last summer, my church did—nothing. I received sympathy cards from individuals, and I treasured each one, but as a church: nothing. No meals, no visits, not even a phone call from my most beloved church of my whole life.

In the year since my mother’s death, I have had time to reflect on what God may be teaching me through long nights of grief, pain, and loneliness. I have worked and prayed to forgive, and I have come miles down that road by his grace. I have learned that love, in God’s eyes, is the most important thing, and I’ve repented for the times I didn’t love others as I should have. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I’ve realized that those first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 cover all the kinds of churches in the world, from charismatic to reformed to legalistic to liberal, whereas I had only seen individuals in those verses before. The last verse of that chapter, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” has become my heart’s cry. I am doing my best to love now, having people in my home, supporting everyone I can, and praying for the most unlikely people. I will never be good at this—it is not my gift—but it is everyone’s calling.

At the same time, other things have become less important. I have started taking stock of the ways that I have fit myself into someone else’s mold, rather than reading the Bible without filters and living what it says. We live in a world full of noise, with someone telling us what to think about everything, and when we agree with one side about an issue, we’re thrown into a box with dozens of other opinions that we’re expected to believe as well. But I don’t, and it’s becoming bewildering to think that I’m the only one who holds nuanced opinions that don’t fit neatly onto a bumper sticker.

Out of SortsAnd along came Sarah Bessey again. When I saw her new book title, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, I thought, “Yes, that’s where I am.” Truly, if your faith is not evolving, you are just not paying attention, and considering the political events of the past year, I think most Christians are not thinking deeply enough about their faith. The idea that our religion can be co-opted into a political cause is tremendously disturbing in its own right. Combining the events of my personal life with the national, even global, turmoil has caused me to be discouraged and almost despairing for particular churches, but also for the universal Church. Heaven knows the answer doesn’t lie in creating yet another denomination.

Ms. Bessey is one of a growing group of believers who think that the church is ripe for a new reformation, and my heart resonates with that idea. She points out that a major upheaval happens about every five hundred years in the church. In other words, we’re due. We just can’t continue in the splintered, contentious fashion that we now tolerate. Who is for Paul, who is for Apollos, and who is for Jesus?** The world has changed since Martin Luther nailed a paper to a cathedral door to ask for a discussion. Thousands of discussions are taking place every minute on social media with no moderator whatsoever, and in the church, we have no leader. Pope Francis? Jerry Falwell, Jr.?

Sarah Bessey writes by telling stories, and every one is soaked with her passionate love for Jesus. I read this book like drinking a life-giving elixir. I consumed it. To paraphrase Roberta Flack, I felt she’d found my letters and read each one out loud. If I had time, I would go right back to the beginning and read it again. She pulls out one topic after another and encourages the reader to examine it honestly, leading us to be courageous by telling her own life’s stories. She has also been a part of different kinds of churches in different parts of the continent, and she has drawn truth and beauty from each experience, but she now realizes that she cannot fully assent to the beliefs of any one church. No one is right about everything, after all, but neither is everyone else wrong about everything. You may as well tell the truth about how you feel and what you think, rather than making yourself believe something in order to please someone else, because when it comes right down to it, if they don’t love you because you disagree, what do you gain by hiding the truth? The only one who matters already knows what you think, and he can take it. You may not agree with Sarah Bessey on every issue—or, like me, you may not know what you think about some of them—but she will take you gently through all of the things that need sorting out in your heart and mind.

I do believe that the future is hopeful for me and for the church, but I believe just as firmly that there is suffering ahead. The Lord has used my pain to force me to change, to let go of things I held dear, to work harder for the kingdom, to forgive and to love. As Switchfoot’s new album*** says, the wound is where the light shines through, where the grace pours in, where he reaches in to heal. Be courageous! Lean into the pain and love well.

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It was not my intent to hurt anyone with this post, but rather to tell my story so that others who have been deeply wounded can find comfort here. Scripture quotes are from the ESV Bible.

*There is a reference for this! Ephesians 6: 6 & 7.

**Riffing on 1 Corinthians 1:12.

***It always come down to Switchfoot, doesn’t it? I am here freely making inferences from the song “Where the Light Shines Through” and the album of the same name.

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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 7-11-16.

Book Expo 2016

BEA vendor hall
Just a Tiny Corner of the Vendor Hall

Vast spaces with advertising banners flapping overhead, thousands of vendors tastefully hawking books and book-related technology, and many more thousands of women and men setting up appointments with their chiropractors on their cellphones as they juggle canvas bags of heavy books that they couldn’t resist adding to the piles of unread galleys they already have at home: it’s another Book Expo America.

BEA venueMcCormick Place in Chicago—the West Building, specifically—hosted us this year as we attended excellent sessions with esoteric names such as “Innovation in Children’s Publishing” and “The Story Starts Here: Humor Edition” while navigating escalators and paying outrageous amounts of money for water. BEA started as a conference for publishers and booksellers, particularly for the adult market. However, over the years they seem to be catching on to the fact that libraries spend a lot of money on books, and that the children’s market—especially the exploding YA segment—can be lucrative, too. Two years ago, in New York, there were just a few valuable events for me, but this year, I had a hard time getting to the vendor floor between sessions, although two exceptional events were added the very week before the conference.

Kwame Alexander hug
Kwame and me: we’re best buds.

By the late afternoon on Thursday, the day after the Day of Dialog and Children’s Author Dinner, I was beginning to flag. I had been rained on during the river architecture tour in the morning, had attended several good sessions at McCormick Place and had even done a conquering tour of the vendor floor. Somewhere along the way, I got wrapped up in a bear hug by the amazing Kwame Alexander, Newbery-winning author of Crossover. He’s expanded to picture books now! At the end of the day, the thought of walking across the indoor bridge to the Hyatt Regency for Scholastic’s Picture Book Event was daunting, but I figured I could nurse my blisters later. I’m so glad I made the effort! Three outstanding authors and illustrators greeted us there: David Shannon, Tom Lichtenheld, and Kate Beaton. All of these are much-loved authors, and you can imagine how much fun picture book folks would be.

Picture Book Panel
Kate Beaton, David Shannon, and Tom Lichtenheld

There were musical numbers with audience participation, reader’s theater, and hilarious slide shows. We received galleys of Shannon’s new Duck on a Tractor, Lichtenheld’s Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs, and Beaton’s King Baby. I had to laugh when Kate Beaton talked about the stages of life on Facebook: you go for years in college when you have nothing but pictures of young adults partying, etc. Then suddenly, your friends get married and their posts are nothing but baby pictures, and you roll your eyes in disgust. Then your sister has a baby, and your Facebook page is nothing but baby pictures, too—but nobody else’s baby is as cute or smart as yours. They left us with terrific gifts, including a signed and illustrated print of all three book covers in a wooden frame, which is now hanging near my desk.

Thursday evening was all about the Sourcebooks cocktail party in the Hancock Tower that I wrote about in my first Chicago blog, so it was serious work, of course.

Torch Against the NightFriday started early, back at McCormick Place for the Children’s Author Breakfast. Let me just state here that the fees for the meals at BEA must go to the speakers, because the menus are a low-carber’s nightmare. Mini-bagels, sweet breads, and fruit. I had had some yogurt back at the hotel, just in case, so I started off this breakfast by popping the top off the coffee carafe and pouring it all over the tablecloth, my purse, and my slacks. I did manage to miss my colleague, thank goodness. The day did improve. Jamie Lee Curtis, who is one of the few celebrities to write children’s books that are truly literary, hosted a panel that included Dav Pilkey, Sabaa Tahir, and Gene Luen Yang, all of whom are brilliant and gave fascinating speeches. Ms. Curtis shared with the audience that her severely challenged son, who is now twenty, could not read until he met Captain Underpants, and so now she has a soft place in her heart for Dav Pilkey. She choked up, they embraced, and the audience wept and had more coffee. Ms. Tahir spun stories of her childhood as a bullied Muslim girl growing up in the American western desert, where her father owned a hotel. I achieved my objective of acquiring an additional copy of the much-anticipated A Torch Against the Night for a certain teen girl that I know who passionately adored Tahir’s debut, An Ember in the Ashes. Gene Luen Yang gave a rousing speech as this year’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, encouraging us to read outside of our comfort zones. I agree with him that our entire world would be a more peaceful place if we lived inside one another’s stories for a while and broadened our worldviews. In all, this author’s breakfast encapsulated the heart of children’s literature: innocence, suffering, laughter, and compassion.

After meeting a favorite author by chance on the vendor floor, sharing stories at a session with the Unshelved guys and other librarians, and setting up a shipping box to send all of my loot home ahead of me, I went to the ABA-CBC Children’s Author Speed Dating Lunch, and this, as mentioned in my last post, is where I geeked out. Here is how author speed dating works: all the participants are assigned to a numbered table, and the authors move from table to table, pitching their latest works for five minutes until the bell rings and they move to the next table and start again. Often, the authors are fairly new or even debut authors. It’s fun, and the tables are piled high with gift copies of their books, just in case you haven’t set up that appointment with your chiropractor yet.

David Arnold.jpg
David Arnold

I had never eaten a meal during speed dating before, and it was tricky. You can’t put food in your mouth while the author is talking, since that seems rude, so you’re stuffing forkfuls of salad in while they walk to the next table. Our second author had just sat down and was plunging into his spiel in a panicked manner, since he had just realized at his first table that the bell rings far too soon. Something he said made me think, “Oh, my gosh, is this…?” as I craned my neck to see his nametag while frantically trying to swallow my lettuce. Then I blurted out, “Oh, my gosh, are you David Arnold?” He stopped talking and nodded, wide-eyed, as if caught in the act of being himself. “Oh, I just loved Mosquitoland so much and forced so many people to read it!” KidsLogoORIGINALFILEI gestured to his new book, Kids of Appetite, and he started talking again. At the end, I asked him if he was signing galleys and got all the info about where he would be. In the meantime, the very dignified woman to my right took over all author comments, since I’m sure she was convinced that I could not behave in a professional manner. This turned out to be a good thing, since I could not say a word later when Arthur A. Levine, a publisher himself, sat down to talk about his new book, What a Beautiful Morning. I could not help crying the whole time, which made him tear up, so the woman on my right was probably in despair that our entire table would be disgraced. This luncheon turned out to be much more wonderful than I expected, so Friday was becoming an excellent day.

Kids of AppetiteAfter this event, I hauled my armloads of books up two flights and immediately got in line at the Penguin booth to get David Arnold to sign Kids of Appetite. There was another line for Sabaa Tahir, but when asked if I wanted to join it, I said, “Oh, I’ve already seen her” in a lofty manner and went to Arnold’s line. I was probably the oldest person in either line, but I probably spend more money on books than any of them, so I felt justified. When I got to the front, he remembered me from the luncheon, since I was so memorable to all the witnesses, and he asked me if I wanted the book to be personalized. I said, “Hey, I did not walk all this way and stand in a line for just a signature!” So he very nicely wrote a bit in it. (I have already finished this book and will post a review later. Hint: thumbs up.)

Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie Stiefvater

The very last session I attended at BEA was the APA Audio Authors’ Tea. Do you know what they served at this tea? Tea. Lipton’s. Regular or decaf. There were also some cookies that I ignored, but seriously, Lipton’s? When I went to Orlando for the Baker & Taylor Vendor Summit, they had a glorious selection of teas set out all the time between sessions. Here, I actually paid for the session and got Lipton’s. Oh, well, I really paid for the event because it featured (drumroll…) Maggie Stiefvater! There were others, too, of course: Terry McMillan, John Scalzi, and Michael Koryta, so no small potatoes. All were great, and discussed the special considerations that go into making recordings of books, which I have found fascinating since touring the Recorded Books studio a couple of years ago in New York. Maggie looks like a character in one of her books, and I hung on her every word. I am so glad that I was able to finish The Raven King—the last of the “Raven Cycle”— before seeing her, and I can’t wait to see what this amazingly creative author serves up next.

And that was it! I shipped off my box of goodies and joined my group of colleagues and my husband for that boisterous final meal of octopus that I wrote about in my first Chicago post. I was able to meet so many of my favorite authors, confer with other professionals, and continue to increase my respect for hardworking publisher reps, and throughout the week, several themes seemed to come to the forefront over and over again. I hope to write about those in a later post.

Thanks to all who made Book Expo America possible!

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The very sophisticated photos of David Arnold and Maggie Stiefvater are from Google searches, probably by very expensive professional photographers. The photo of Kwame Alexander and me is from Baker & Taylor’s Facebook page, courtesy of Jill Faherty of Baker & Taylor’s Children and Teen Services.

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This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 5-23-16.