Tonight I decided to nix quality time with the blue-and-white couch in favor of pretending that I’m not socially awkward and actually know how to socialize with people. The occasion was a book swap party at the (glorious, art-filled, can I move in for a weekend and just write, write, write?!) pad of my writing buddy Philippa at which I knew I’d also get to finally meet our fellow blogging buddy Karen IRL. I was struck by how Pippa and Karen both felt like a safe harbor to me simply because we have started off the new year blogging together in what has become an atmosphere of mutual admiration and support. I am so grateful for that gift.
The premise of the party was that each guest would bring a book that changed his or her life inscribed with the reason why that book was the one they’d brought. I had planned to bring Jane Eyre (the first book of fiction in which I remember strongly identifying with the main character), figuring that I wouldn’t be able to find a copy of Journal of a Solitude in time (which is why I had blogged about it here instead of saving it for the book inscription). Serendipitously, I discovered a copy at Silver Spring Books this weekend so I printed out a copy of my blog post, wrote a long note about why I was including a copy of the blog post, and then inscribed the inside cover with one of my favorite Sarton quotes from that particular volume.
I spent a great deal of time talking with C., a young woman from Charleston (who it turns out knows my friend Cate who’s from an old Charleston family) about the challenges and opportunities of being a full-time writer. C. brought Salinger’s Franny and Zooey (a favorite of mine), and talked about how she identified with Franny’s twin states of joy and depression over her artistic success. I also spoke with Z, a young woman who was born in Poland, grew up in Germany, and now lives here. She told me that she identified with Pippa’s sense of cultural dissonance (that Pippa wrote about here), and ultimately I ended up swapping books with Z thanks to Pippa who insisted that Z needed to read Sarton. Curiously, Z and Pippa had brought the same book to swap—The Little Prince. In another moment of serendipity, I had actually been contemplating adding The Little Prince to my list of books to read this year as I couldn’t remember if I’d actually ever read it, and the fact that so many people treasure it both intrigued me and scared me.
Karen brought a book by Dave Barry, which satisfied her dual loves of humor writing and music. She swapped books with a drummer who gave her The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which I’m borrowing once she’s done.) She talked about some of the excerpts she’d read during a humor writing workshop she’s just back from in Key West (read about it here), and I was surprised that the reading list included Moby Dick. (I can’t remember what the other surprising titles were—it’s past my bedtime—but Karen if you’re reading this, I’ll read Moby Dick with you when you get to it.) We talked about how much we both loved living alone, the price you pay when you surrender your singlehood, how you know if someone’s worth sharing with, and how when I move in with Michael Fassbender I will allow him to still smoke (okay, maybe I was talking about that last bit by myself).
I should mention that Karen and I also passed time with T., a young woman wearing gorgeous turquoise eye shadow who was torn between swapping Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and a little pocket-sized book of humorous anecdotes about romance. It was interesting that T. thought Ward’s novel was the kind of book she should swap because it’s “serious literature” yet it was so clear from her expression and voice that the other book was the one most dear to her. I suppose it’s a lot like how the Matt Dillon Quiz Book (pub date June 1983) is an important book to me because, let’s face it, why wouldn’t you want to know that Matt Dillon’s nicknames are Flick and Bounce, but also because it was a gift from my sister to me the year I turned 13, a hint of the deep friendship it would actually take us decades to develop.
At one point Pippa and I talked about the challenges of writing a daily blog, how in some ways it’s a little easier each day, and in other ways it becomes more difficult, especially if you insist on grabbing yourself by the heart and squeezing for each blog post. We’re each learning to accept that not every post has to be brilliant. It’s interesting that Pippa suffers on that front because she doesn’t consider herself a writer, and I suffer on that front because I do. I think ultimately, however, we both believe that truth trumps polish (and I believe we are both writers).
Karen and I left long before the party was over having bonded over our fellow introvert status and our dwindling stores of social energy (it’s amazing I work in PR, isn’t it?), but I am glad that we’ll continue to meet each other over the Interwebs and surely in person as well. And there’s a particular painting in Pippa’s apartment—in a little alcove by the patio door filled with a double row of books and sculptural treasures—that started whispering its poem to me as soon as I saw it, and I hope to be in conversation with both it and Pippa again soon.
I want to leave you with a quote from May Sarton that I think speaks to the reason why we all showed up book in hand, eager to share what had sustained us, taught us, compelled us, revealed us to ourselves. And I hope you’ll linger an extra moment to share what book you would have swapped and why, or maybe what book you might have hoped to receive…
“If we are to understand the human condition, and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy, the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation, both as human being and as artist, we have to know all we can about each other, and we have to be willing to go naked.” — May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude (January 5th)