It's good to get out. Last night I went to the home of a neighbor for a meeting of her book group. Her group--ten to twelve women--had read my book, Grand River and Joy. The novel has been out three years this month, and I am grateful and also thrilled that people are still reading and discussing it. A few weeks ago, my sister's book group in New Jersey discussed it. This morning, first thing, I had an email from a woman in Israel (an old friend of my husband's family) who read my book and plans to discuss it with her book group near the end of the month.
The women at the group last night were excellent readers and thinkers, and the questions and comments were insightful and thought-provoking. Because they just read the book, they remembered details I had almost forgotten (Curtis's response to white women playing with their hair; the grandmother's disapproval in the bicycle giveaway; the way Curtis and Harry step on each others' toes, trying to give each other parenting advice).
Anyway . . . a couple stories that these women told from real life stayed with me and also fit well with the topic of this blog, from which I have so often strayed.
1. One woman is a children's librarian in a suburban library where the community is relatively affluent and mostly white. She says that they track circulation statistics, and books with ethnically diverse characters or with black characters portrayed on the cover tend to circulate very little. I asked whether circulation statistics influence purchasing decisions, and she said that the library staff try not to give in too much--she believes that in a homogenous community like that, it's particularly important for children to be exposed in some way to people who don't look exactly like they do)--but budgets are limited, and so the collection tends to track with popularity. Sigh.
2. Another woman--the host for the evening--said she had recently gone to a spelling bee at the neighborhood elementary school. This is the school my daughter went to, and it is well-integrated in the racial/ethnic sense. It is the school that offered the gospel choir I referred to a couple posts back. At any rate, the spelling bee was for all grades, and there were about 100 or more children there, all very excited and eager to participate. The worrisome thing, she said, was that of all these children, only perhaps three or four were black. Why is this? she wondered. Although I can never again think of a spelling bee without thinking of Myla Goldberg's Bee Season (what a little jewel of a book), I wondered too.
3. Then there were the two women--one who grew up in a Chicago neighborhood called "Back of the Yards" (where the stockyards used to be when Chicago was "Hog Butcher to the World") and the other who grew up in an Illinois town called Bensenville--who had never met a black person or a Jew until they went to college. As I often explain when discussing my book, pretty much the ONLY people I knew growing up were blacks and Jews. And so we all reflected on how we're shaped by the place where we grow up. Although several women in the group last night grew up in various parts of Chicago and had families who moved as part of "White Flight," the woman from Back of the Yards said that her neighborhood--which was very poor--never became integrated. Books, stories, life, books, stories, life. So many stories. So much life. So many books.