This was the summer we were going to explore the Brabant Walloon Province of Belgium where the majority of my ancestors once lived. Our son and daughter-in-law proposed the trip and a second planning meeting was about to be held when COVID-19 erupted outside China.
As plans fell apart in February for a special Easter vacation with my husband’s family and I cancelled a flight to Wisconsin a few weeks later, we wondered how summer travel might be impacted. Italy’s struggle with the immensity of COVID-19 gave the Western world a dose of reality.
We are fortunate to have a second home close to the Wisconsin Belgian community where both my maternal and paternal ancestors settled. Spring through fall planning for visits of family, friends, and fellow writers is usually complete by now. Changes happen, but certain events are written in permanent marker on our calendars before Easter. Until this year. A rough schedule is on my desk with April and May crossed off. The calendar remains blank.
May and June would already be different because the release of 40 Thieves on Saipanowns that time. The regular events to launch a book won’t happen in a shelter in place nation. No launch parties. No bookstore signings. Joseph Tachovsky, my co-author, and I are offering signed bookplates to those who are interested and pre-order the book. We’ll be virtual guests at book club meetings if invited. We’ll be visible on social media and he will be interviewed remotely on radio and television stations. Our publisher is confident and so are we.
Kids and young people are missing irreplaceable milestones like graduations, proms, new jobs, gathering for weddings. The dates circled with permanent marker during normal times. We mourn our lost isolated in quiet homes or viewing small screens. We celebrate births with no idea of when we’ll hold the newborn or hug the parents. We cannot fly to be with those needing physical care. It is what we do so that more of us will be here when this fight is over.
With hundreds of thousands of new book titles released every year, the possibility of making a good choice to read on that next plane ride is a crapshoot. Back cover blurbs can be as transparent as real estate listings. Does a 1912 love story gone bad really deserve a historical novel classification? What are the risks of purchasing a debut mystery? What exactly does feminist mean in describing an author? How much subject information does a true biography require?
Our book club just finished a five hundred and eighty-six page novel that promised one thing and delivered a whole different story that none of us found enjoyable. After a brief discussion about why we were disappointed our talk turned to flawed character development, ponderous pacing and a weak ending. Finally we shared our experiences with making book choices. We’re all frugal individuals and avid readers, but all of us had set aside at least one title in the past two months, often on a pile of others that failed to deliver on their marketing buzz. Of course, some of those titles are in our cloud book piles eating up digital storage space instead of shelves and floors.
How to avoid that experience? Some book buyers rely on the recommendations of friends. Others go to social media for input. Independent booksellers know their stock and enjoy talking with buyers. Small publishers often have honest back blurbs known to those who favor certain niches. Reading reviews from more than one source can reveal delicious or unpleasant facts. With a smartphone, even airport buyers have access to information beyond the back cover.
You could choose to stick with a short list of favorite authors and selectively pick your way through similar writers. Even that approach will land a few stinkers. I know people who buy many 99-cent ebooks hoping at least one will be a find.
Busy lives, crowded airplanes, too few beach vacation days mean wrong choices waste something often more valuable than the book’s purchase price–time when we could have been enjoying a good read.
At a certain age many women won’t leave their home without a partial social mask called makeup. Maybe tinted moisturizer and lip shimmer. Maybe the whole deal with shadow and mascara and real lipstick. Even in the grocery store or out walking the dog, that minor skim of cover marks a woman as someone who cares about herself. And we won’t even mention appearing in public without filling those pierced ear openings. Decades in the professional workforce stamp expectations that are hard to erase.
So sitting around each morning with my beautiful book club women sans makeup produced a gentle intimacy like sisters at home together. Pale or blotchy, dry or oily, we were comfortable in our skin with each other. There were wonderful topics to discuss while lounging in bright morning sunshine and slurping at the first cup of coffee or second cup or third before anyone grabbed their concealer or powder. I’ve become sensitive to grooming of neighbor women who stop by to visit and feel honored by those who arrive with hair brushed and a clean, natural face.
When I started writing this, I thought it was a small thing, this vulnerability of being comfortable with others without wearing makeup. But even using the word ‘vulnerability’ implies some risk taking in showing a natural face, social messages that are defied about how women should look. I’ll let others take those on. If you enjoy the tubes and pots and powders, I understand. But don’t ever feel like you have to pass me by if you’re just looking like yourself without the polish.
Every writer must be a reader. I won’t back down from that statement. A writer who does not read is like a person applying for a driving license who has never sat behind the steering wheel. I have my book club to thank for exposing me to literature that would not have crossed my radar and keeping me reading when projects or writing could have devoured all free time.
This month we’re reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, an American writer with a shelf of science fiction including significant speculative fiction work. Bless their collected souls, the book club members want to be supportive of my speculative fiction work. Dick is fascinated by many of the same social and political issues readers will identify in my books. He passed away in the 1980s which shows that a dominating government, limited resources, and loss of freedoms are not concerns unique to any one generation.
Discussion without an arbitrary cut off related to everyone’s work schedule the next day will be interesting. I suspect we’ll talk about a whole lot more than books. There is a world of problems and challenges to chew through—families, work, politics, music, books. We’ll probably visit The Peninsula Bookman for a wander through new and used books. I’m guessing we’ll also visit the Bayside Tavern for good bar food and a bit of rowdiness. I know we’ll spend time walking along the shores of Lake Michigan even if it rains. The lake calls to our two Michigan and one Wisconsin native as a homecoming of sorts.
So be prepared Fish Creek. The book club is coming to town.