Book Clubs Discuss …

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September 2005 — Susan Baxter, Owner of Fanno Creek Calicos in Tigard OR had the first meeting of her shop’s book club to discuss their reading of The Fisherman’s Quilt and how we all deal with “self-actualization” or growing up; how we need our own identities; and above all, how we need each other.

Fanno Creek Calicos meets the first Sunday of each month to make quilts for children in need. Willing hands stitch for this project, Wrap Them in Love, between 11am-4 pm. For more information, go to FannoCreekCalicos

March 2005 — The Madison, Alabama Morning and Evening Book Clubs met at the home of my brother and sister-in-law Mike and Carol Doyle on March 20, 2005.

My sister, Shelagh Kane, who drew the initial cover sketch for The Fisherman’s Quilt had also come from the Northwest to visit our Southern family. I had picked up the book 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the South, and was interested in what novels these Southern women enjoyed, and what novels they felt best represented the South.

If I were asked to identify which books best represent my region, the Pacific Northwest, I would probably say the old pulp novel Annie Jordan by Mary Brinker Post. My daughter mentioned Tom Robbins, but I’ve never been crazy about his work: too vomitous and self-consciously clever for me. Snow Falling on Cedars seemed to have a distant voice, not engaging enough for me. I love Murray Morgan’s books of Seattle, Skid Road, and Sons of the Profits; also Pigtail Days in Old Seattle, but those aren’t novels.

As we went around and discussed favorite books and regional books, the ladies held forth:

Ann George of the “Sister” mysteries was a favorite Southern writer. Several of the women mentioned the classic To Kill a Mockingbird; many mentioned that they found Faulkner too difficult and depressing.

It was interesting that Shelagh, a Yankee, brought up Cold Mountain and The Secret Life of Bees, as memorable Southern literature, and all the women present concurred.

Judy Osburn spoke of Women Who Run with Wolves and feminine empowerment. We discussed the misguided direction of American feminism: that it placed us in competition with men, especially in business, rather than in support of ourselves, especially in traditional and cherished roles of homemaking, child-raising and family support.

Many of the women had husbands whose government career moves originally brought them to Alabama. This of course is the situation Nora encounters in The Fisherman’s Quilt as she follows her commercial fisherman from Seattle to Kodiak Alaska.

The Madison women who had read the book had already quizzed Carol about how much of it was autobiographical, and as often happens had two questions for me:

1) What happened to the children?
2) What happened to the quilt?

It was fun to meet with my countrywomen, to discuss our love of books and family, home and region. Thanks to my Southern Sisters for making us feel so welcome, and sharing so much of your lives. I hope to come to the Northeast part of the country next spring, and talk with women there.

November 2004 — Late in October I met with Sheila, Amy, Nancy, Noreen, Judith, Jacky, Susan, Bev, and Glynis of the Suquamish United Church of Christ Book Club in Suquamish, Washington, the final resting place of Seattle’s namesake, Chief Sealth. I brought the original “fancy, gaudy quilt made of old party dresses” and also the early versions of The Fisherman’s Quilt, as we discussed men and children and ways to earn a living and the reality of child-rearing.

We described our own personal experiences in finding fulfillment within our roles as wives, mothers, and community members, turning to crafts, and music, and reading to come up with the “ways and means” of connecting to each other, of supporting each other. In helping others in this way, Nora developed the strength of character to rely on herself, and believe in herself, in her ability to summon the everyday courage to be there for her children. Two lines of thought surprised me: first, when one woman said, “Nora (you) really missed your piano, didn’t you?’ and I had a real ache for how much she (I) had missed my piano;my big hulking friend.

The second thought was when I expressed the remorse I feel for the times I let my children down. I thought it was a personal failing that I was admitting to, and I was surprised at the affirming response I had from the other women; that they too had many thoughts of times they wished they could “do over.” I try to counter this guilt with the real pride I feel in my children as adults. But somehow, knowing I did my best isn’t enough; I wish I could have done better.

September 2004 — Over the Labor Day Weekend, I met with six members of the Des Moines, Iowa Book Club at the home of one of their members on Orcas Island. What a lively and perceptive group of women! We discussed “The Fisherman’s Quilt” and one of the topics that came up in relation to my novel was whether journal-writers keep their diaries with the intention of keeping them private, or leaving them for others to read. I like reading what I’ve written, and I like the idea of others reading my journal, but I don’t write my journal for their consumption. It’s to record the details of my life, to list my tasks and goals, and to let some free-flowing word gremlins have their way on paper. I’ve changed my journal-keeping habits in that I once wrote down everything just as it came into my head. Now I try to say it, write it, frame my thoughts in a more positive and more precise way. I try to tune it to the positive and comforting energy that may exist around a situation, rather than be all ugly about it I also try to be direct in my daily life, so that my thoughts are no surprise to people who interact with me. When my daughter was young, I learned a great way to frame a suggestion or a complaint was to distance myself and the person I’m speaking with from the problem. “I know of a girl who. . . ” allowed me to present the problem without slamming the child. Anyway! Another question that pleased me was asking what happened to the fisherman’s quilt, in real life. What do you think happened to it? I also appreciated the comment of one of the ladies, comparing the book and Nora’s story, to the sad tale of Andrea Yates. It is a comparison that I feel is valid and cautionary. We all need to look out for each other as we take care of our children and parents.

June 2004 — I just returned from a wonderful trip to Yakutat, Sitka, and Juneau, Alaska, hosted by my Kodiak-era friends, Janeen and David Russell, owners of Yakutat Coastal Airways. We flew over the Hubbard Glacier, fished for halibut, watched the Cape St. Elias dancers perform, and best of all, met with about 18 members of the Yakutat Book Club. These women range in age from a college student from UMass/Amherst, to a woman who has lived in Yakutat since 1963. They are National Park Service employees, fishing and hunting charter operators, a bank manager-B&B owner, and an obstetrics nurse who commutes to Seattle to work every other weekend, among others. My favorite comment was from a young woman in her 20’s who said she recognized herself as one of the characters in , although this novel was set in the 1970’s-80’s. Thank you, Yakutat Book Club, for your warm reception!

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