So last May, totally out of the blue, I get an email.
I’m writing to ask if you might be interested and able to meet with a group of readers who will have read your novel, The Mud of the Place, and will be visiting Martha’s Vineyard this fall.
I’m hallucinating this, I thought. I used to fantasize all the time about meeting with a group of readers who wanted to talk about my novel. It never happened. I must be dreaming.
I read on:
The visit is what we call a Books Afoot trip, and we’ve been planning and offering these books-on-the-road experiences (one or two a year) for the past 17 years. . . . The basic idea is that reading and travel make a rewarding combination. We pick a destination, learn about women writers from that place (which always involves exciting discoveries), select books to read beforehand, then travel there with interested reader-travelers for exploration and book discussion. Participants come from all over the country.
Living in a tourist trap can make a girl just a bit jaded on the subject of tourism. Is it possible for a person to pass through a place and come away with any inkling of what that place is about? Do tourists care what the place is about, or do they just see what they want and expect to see?
Jaded to the core, still I loved what Books Afoot was about. Was I interested in participating? You’re goddamn right I was interested. They’d had so much interest in Martha’s Vineyard that they’d scheduled three trips, three consecutive weeks in early fall. Could I come speak with all three groups? I’ll be there, I emailed back. All three groups. I’m not going anywhere.
I was so thrilled and flattered and vindicated and a dozen other things I wanted to blog it all over the universe.
I hardly told anybody.
Books Afoot is a program of Minnesota Women’s Press, which does other neat stuff. It publishes Minnesota Women’s Press, a monthly feminist news magazine; and BookWomen, a bimonthly “readers’ community for those who love women’s words.” Mollie, my contact, sent me copies of both. The April-May 2013 issue of BookWomen included an account of a recent Books Afoot trip to Mexico. I drooled.
So this morning I headed out to Edgartown to meet with the first Books Afoot group at Edgartown Books. We pushed together several tables in the bookstore’s outdoor café, next to a little burbling fountain. It was my first long-pants day of the season — maybe a little chilly to be sitting outside? Hell, no: most of these women were from Minnesota!
And you know what? It was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be. Maybe even more so. That’s what I was afraid of, that’s why I couldn’t tell anybody what was happening: I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my own expectations, which were high high high high.
But it did.
Listening to 15 or 16 women who’ve read your book and connected with it and can tell you what moved them, what bothered them, what they wanted to tell their friends about? And they’re telling you all different things, from Jay’s fear of coming out to Shannon’s fear of opening the door to her studio to “you must have worked for a newspaper at some point, didn’t you?”
It does not get much better than this.
So I can’t wait till next week, meeting a new group of readers. And I’m thinking that with readers like these in the world, maybe there’s a point in writing?
Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’m going overboard.
The Books Afoot group had already been to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum when I met them this morning. Tomorrow they’re going to meet with June Manning in Aquinnah. When they leave the island on Friday, they’ll probably know as much about it as I do.