Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

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Shelf Discovery-The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick

shelf discovery“We Must, We Must, We Must Increase Our Bust”

In her “Fine Lines” column on the website Jezebel, Lizzie Skurnick re-read many of the novels she loved as a young girl, looking at them through the eyes of an adult. Now many of these (somewhat altered) essays are in book form in Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Ms. Skurnick is no stranger to young adult books. Not only is she a reader but she’s also a writer of some of the Sweet Valley High books. She also brings along writers like Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner and Cecily von Ziegesar for the ride down memory lane.

Shelf Discovery does not cover the books we had to read for school, books by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eyre and Austen. No, this book covers the books that weren’t on any teacher-approved reading list. These are the books that kept us up long after our bed time or the books we hid behind our text books during social studies. These are the books we loaned to our friends only to get them back with tattered covers and dog-eared pages. Well, at least this happened to me when I loaned my copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by uber-goddess Judy Blume to all my friends in Miss Wilson’s fifth grade class.

Not surprisingly, Judy Blume’s books are reviewed in Shelf Discovery as are the Little House books. Skurnick also takes a look back at books like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene, The Cat Ate My Gym Suit by Paula Danziger and I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier. Shelf Discovery covers books that were considered too old for us but we read them anyway like Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and VC Andrew’s My Sweet Audrina. And books that I thought only I had read like To All My Fans With Love, From Sylvie by Ellen Conford and To Take a Dare by Paul Zindel and Crescent Dragonwagon are also covered.

These essays are thoughtful, reflective and funny, and brought back a lot of memories. Not only of reading these books, but also how they made me feel and how they inspired talk among my gaggle of girlfriends. I loved reading the Little House books, feeling some cheesehead pride because Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Wisconsin. And I was quite comforted to know I wasn’t only the one who found Laura’s sister Mary an insufferable prissy-pants though I never went as far as to call her a “fucking bitch” like Skurnick does.

And where would we be without Judy Blume? Sure, some people want to ban her books, but to most of us, we loved Judy Blume because she introduced us to characters we could actually relate to. These were characters who experienced divorce or the death of a parent. They dealt with sexism, favored siblings and peer pressue. They questioned religion. They also dealt with the difficulties of growing up, physically, mentally and emotionally. Blume did not hesitate to make her main characters somewhat unlikable such as the protagonist in Blubber, Jill, who bullies Linda for being fat. And then there was Tony from Then Again, Maybe I Won’t who spied on his friend’s hot sister with his binoculars. What a perv!!!

Long before Gossip Girl, the books covered in Shelf Discovery introduced us to the world of S.E.X! Forever proved a girl could have sex and not get pregnant the first time or become a raving lunatic. It also kept generations of women from naming their male offspring Ralph. Wifey totally had a dirty mind. Flowers in the Attic introduced us the idea of brother/sister sex long before the Jerry Springer Show. And Katy Perry may have thought she was so lesbian chic when she sang, “I Kissed a Girl” but Jaret and Peggy were getting it on thirty years earlier in Sandra Scoppetone’s Happy Endings Are All Alike.

I’m not familiar with all of the books featured in Shelf-Discovery, but many of you might be. And I’m also not a fan of some of the books I did read. I wanted to fling Go Ask Alice across my teen-age bedroom. Even back then I knew it was a load of shite, and Go Ask Alice, which was allegedly based on the real diary of a teen girl messed up on drugs, was debunked several years ago.

I was also amazed to find out that many of the books we enjoyed as kids are now being enjoyed by today’s kids. Sure, kids have their Harry Potter and their Twilight books, but Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret also resonates with them. While visiting Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, Meg Cabot sheepishly tells the girls she is re-reading the Judy Blume classic. She expected blank stares from the students, but instead she got thunderous applause and cheers. Even though these girls live half a world away from suburban New Jersey, they totally adore Margaret. I still adore Margaret.

Reading Shelf Discovery reminded me why books always meant so much to me growing up (and still do). How fun was Sally J Freedman? And was I the only one who though Rosemary from Sister of the Bride was way too young to get married? But at least my mom and dad never sent me off to boarding school to die like the awful parents in The Grounding of Group 6. If you’re looking for a literary walk down memory lane and more than “seven minutes in heaven” you can’t go wrong with Shelf Discovery.

Book Marks

bookmarks obamaLovely tributes to Alison Parker, reporter and Adam Ward, photojournalist.

Author Joseph Stiglitz discusses growing income inequality issues.

Yes, please do this. Oh, wait. Don’t.

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Wrote a Book. Hmm, Morrissey is writing a novel.

Just what is JK Rowling’s favorite Harry Potter fan theory? She’s happy to tell us!

Male writers hide their gender to gain female readers.

Beyond the standard book shelf. Really cool and unique ways to store your books!

Toronto Libraries lets patrons check-out humans as well as books. I love this idea, so clever!

Words of wisdom from Judy Blume.

Librarians on bicycles are bringing books to under-served children.

Book Marks

bookmarkAre you there, Twitter? It’s me, Judy.

A book for born worriers.

Books from the past five years that are must-reads for women.

Ten tips for the perfect book launch party.

Though I believe Sheryl Sandberg meant well, not all women can lean-in. Linda “Hand to Mouth” Tirado reviews the book Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over. I so have to read this book!

Retro Reviews: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume **UPDATED**

AreYouThereGodWhere would generations of women be without Judy Blume? Sure, some people wanted to ban her books, but I loved Judy Blume because she wrote about characters I could actually relate to. Blume’s characters dealt with divorce, death, family strife, religion, sex, bullying and peer pressure. But most of all Blume’s characters dealt with the difficulties of growing up: physically, emotionally and mentally. Blume didn’t sugar-coat these difficulties nor did she patronize the reader. And that’s why one of my favorite books is her 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Margaret Simon is the title character. She’s 12 years old and just moved to suburban New Jersey. She’s worried about starting a new school, making friends and other assorted growing pains. She soon befriends three girls: Nancy, Gretchen and Janie. Together they gossip, talk about boys, wonder when they’ll get their periods and practice breast development exercises, chanting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.”

Margaret has other important things on her mind beyond growing out of a training bra and needing a box of Kotex. Margaret has questions about religion, questions that can’t easily be answered. Her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish. But what is Margaret? According to her friends, she has to pick one of the other so she can join either the YMCA or the Jewish Community Center.

Margaret’s paternal grandmother calls her granddaughter “My Jewish girl” and takes Margaret to synagogue. Margaret’s estranged maternal grandparents are convinced Margaret is Christian. Margaret even tries to go to confession at a Catholic church. But all this leaves Margaret confused, and she gets angry with God. Eventually she begins to accept the messy realities of growing up, though Blume refuses to tie up Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in a tidy little bow.

My mother gave me a copy of the book when I was ten. I was the only girl in my fifth grade class to get my hands on a copy and soon my classmates asked to borrow it. By the time I got it back, the book was pretty much in tatters, widely read and hugely loved.

It’s been ages since I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret but it still resonates with me. To this day I can remember Gretchen was the first of Margaret’s girl tribe to get her period, and all the girls want to mack on Philip Leroy during “7 Minutes in Heaven.” And before “Sex and the City” gave me the term “frenemy” I knew Nancy was kind of a bitch even though she was supposed to be Margaret’s friend. And poor Gretchen (spoiler alert); she was the last of Margaret’s coterie to get her period. The horror!

As for, those breast enhancing exercises where you chant, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” Well, they don’t work. You know I tried, okay!

I hope today’s girls like Margaret like I did. Sure, girls have Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen these days, but I also hope they have a Margaret Simon. Her appeal is enduring and universal, no matter what generation you got slid into.

Are you there, Judy? It’s me, Bookish Jen. Thank you.

**Carole Besharah is a fellow book blogger. In her essay, Playboys, and Periods, and Bras, Oh My!, Carole shares her love of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” with her daughter Teagan.**

 

Book Marks

bookmarkHarper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird will finally be digitalized in e-book form.

Musings on whey we love eight of Judy Blume’s books. And the books that shaped us as women (including one iconic Judy Blume book).

Douglas Coupland, author of the Gen X classic Generation X, claims what people said about Generation X-ers is now being said about Millennials. In other words, same shit, different generation.

When I was a teen, I the only way to be a part of rock and roll was to become a groupie. Sure, if I had any musical talent I could have taken up guitar and become the next Joan Jett. Sadly, I thought I would have to rely on other, ahem talents, to get close to rock and roll greats. Thank goodness I found out about rock critic Lisa Robinson who wrote about the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and U2. I learned you can hang out with the boys who rock and not wear your panties around your ankles. Now Ms. Robinson has chronicled her rock and roll adventures in her memoir, There Goes Gravity. I so have to read this book.

Today begins the three day event of “We Need Diverse Books” campaign, which brings up the need to validate our diverse culture and heritage through books and other literary means.