Adventures by the Book!

I love the written word! Some would even say, I swear by it. If you ask me,  it comes in handy when blogging. Yep, I’m passionate about the written word. Which is why I also love to read!

Only now that I’m whipping up tall stories for my blog, I have little time to do read, which is a real shame because there are so many books worth exploring these days.  If someone can figure out a way to give me back my teen years, when I could lounge in bed for hours on end and just read, read, READ, then I’d be forever grateful.

Until that happens, I simply do not want to lose touch with reading.  And thanks to two major events in my life, I don’t have to!

1:  I have discovered the world of audio books. Perfect for when I’m walking my dog. Makes me feel like a kid again, harking to a time when my mother would drop me off at the library for story time. How I loved listening to the librarian’s expressive voice as she read the story of the peddler and his dozens of caps and his run in with some mischievous monkeys, or the adventures of the amazing, self-reared, Pippi Longstocking.  Now, I’m reliving those times, but with books for the adult me!

2: My dear friend, Susan, has launched a very exciting venture, fittingly called, Adventures By the Book.

In this day and age of mass media meets social media, and the rush, rush of ever-changing technology, isn’t it nice to know you can have a cozy exchange with your favorite published writer? Well, that’s what Adventures by the Book is all about! If you ask me, Adventures is sure to turn the world of books—and publishing—on its proverbial head. It has taken the traditional author book signing, many of us have participated in at bookstores, to a whole new level, giving us ordinary readers extraordinary opportunities to network with some amazing writers.

So, instead of standing on long lines waiting for an author to sign your book, Susan’s events are a chance to spend quality time with the author, learn about their writing process and how they got published, ask questions, and have evocative conversations with them in a decidedly personal setting. Voila! It’s so brilliant that I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself!  But—and don’t tell Susan—I’m happy to ride on her coattails and go along for the journey.

Adventures By the Book event, featuring author Eleanor Brown and her book, "The Weird Sisters." From left: Susan McBeth, me, Eleanor Brown & our friend, Valerie Breen.

I’m especially excited that Adventures by the Book is debuting a Friday lunch series with authors guaranteed to delight and open new worlds. A feast for your mind and soul—not to mention your appetite! First up, on May 20th, Zohreh (Zoe) Ghahremani, author of the acclaimed Sky of Red Poppies.  Set in Iran, circa 1960’s, during the rule of the Shah, it is the story of two girls who are best friends, the choices they make and how the different paths they take impact their relationship.

I remember hearing about the Shah when I was a kid, and how he was driven from his country, which came as a surprise to the US at the time, or so it was said, but beyond that I knew little of the impact of his decades-long reign on his people. This book gives a remarkable glimpse into life in an oppressive regime.

Future Adventures by the Book activities will range from spending an intimate evening with an author, to a weekend getaway, to a more extensive trip abroad where, well-loved authors will provide guided tours of their part of the world or whip up a tantalizing dish, evocative of the region.

If you ask me, this is the coolest idea for an undertaking and I’m so glad my friend, Susan, has made it all possible.  It’s the best of all worlds, combining reading with meaningful occasions to connect with authors. So much so that I’m inspired to start reading—all over again.  After all, happiness is wrapping yourself in a good book, one that transports you to another place and time. Happiness also is getting to meet the writer behind said book. It can’t get any better than that!

Spanish Spoken Here

I entered the New York public school system in 1960, and from the get go, I began my education facing an obstacle, one that I was completely unaware I had. That is, until second grade, when I heard my teacher, Mrs. Green, bring it to my mother’s attention. It seems I was having trouble understanding the lessons and I wasn’t speaking up in class.

Mrs. Green smiled politely as she said this, but then turned decidedly serious. Carefully enunciating her words, she asked my mother whether English was ever spoken in our home.  I cringed. Why was Mrs. Green asking?  Was it my mother’s heavy Spanish accent that was giving us away? I had hoped no one would notice, so it was crushing to suddenly realize our secret was out.

Still, I couldn’t understand why it mattered what language was spoken in our home.  What did it have to do with my ability—or lack of it—to learn? Yes, my parents spoke only Spanish, but I thought my father’s English was quite respectable. He seemed comfortable speaking it outside our home and did so often. If you ask me, he spoke it with a charm reminiscent of Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy and we all knew how well Little Ricky had turned out.

Mrs. Green's Second Grade Class, 1962. I'm in the second row, second from the left.

Though my mother was another matter. She understood English, but went out of her way to avoid speaking it.  Which was kind of a relief to me, as it was mortifying to hear her struggle for the right words.

And here we were admitting the obvious to Mrs. Green, that we lived a double life. English in the outside world, and Spanish at home. Seemed perfectly natural to me. Which made it hard to understand why it was an issue now.

Although, I did recall Mrs. Green once giving us an assignment to write about shops in our neighborhood and I had to write about a delicatessen. Delicatessen? I had no idea what that was, and rather than ask, I just made something up: “The delicatessen is a fine place to shop for delicate things, especially when you’re not in any hurry.” Of course, had I asked, I would have discovered that delicatessens served cold cuts, pickles and the like, and that some people just referred to them as a “deli.”  So maybe that’s why Mrs. Green wrote in my report card,

Language Arts Reading: Monica is reading at first grade level. Monica does not contribute much to class discussions. I am trying to get her to speak more freely. It would help her language skills if she used the public library.

My mother started dropping me off at the library every Saturday morning. I’d make the most of these visits, enjoying story time in the children’s section, then browsing the shelves where I discovered Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobel, and Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. It became a thrill to be in the library, with my own library card, which made me feel very grown up.

Written Expression: Monica has difficulty in expressing her thoughts in sentences. She has learned to use a capital at the beginning of a sentence and a period at the end.

Given how much I love writing, it’s tough for me to imagine I once found it hard to express myself through the written word, and that I was stymied by the proper use of punctuation. Yet, I do remember the sense of doom I’d feel when Mrs. Green gave us writing assignments. My mind would blank and I’d keep my torment to myself. Anything, than have to admit that I was at a loss for words.

I struggled a lot in second grade and there were times I really felt I’d never be more than just average. Knowing that I had a language barrier to overcome didn’t make it any easier, but it did give me new determination.  Thanks to my teacher’s report card, I learned that the key for me was to read and read often, and I’ll always be grateful that Mrs. Green suggested I use the library. For it was through my library visits that I became a passionate reader.  So much so, that in the last report card of the school year, Mrs. Green wrote, “Monica is now reading at second grade level.”

Finally! And in the nick of time, too. For third grade was just a summer away.