What do a Spanish renaissance princess, a book-phobic overweight girl and a vegetarian child desperate for artificial sweeteners have in common? You'd think, not much! Yet all three came out to celebrate National Reading Group Month at a joint author reading event sponsored by the Women's National Book Association's San Francisco Chapter (WNBA-SF). Held in Marin County's famous Book Passage, one of the Bay Area's most distinguished independent book stores, writers Kathi Kamen Goldmark (And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You), Tanya Egan Gibson (How To Buy A Love Of Reading), and myself, C.W. Gortner, (The Last Queen) joined members of the WNBA-SF and other book lovers to read from our most recent works and share anecdotes about our journeys to publication.
Promoting literacy and a love of reading has been WNBA's primary mission since its inception and National Reading Group Month helps to spotlight the incredible satisfaction and communal unity that books can give. From Kathi Kamen Goldmark's health-obsessed mom and sugar-starved child to Tanya Egan Gibson's cynical, self-deprecating girl battling her weight to my 16th century princess witnessing the fall of Moorish Granada, these disparate characters and their plights demonstrate the jubilance, wit, and grandeur that fiction can add to our lives, emphasizing that despite all the doom-and-gloom in the news, and the pundit declarations that soon we'll all be using our phones to read, the physical book remains an essential, even vital, part of our existence. No other medium gives us the breadth of voice and character or the ability to immerse ourselves via paper and ink into entirely separate worlds from our own, which nevertheless carry within them the seeds of our own selves.
At Book Passage, as we authors fielded excited questions from an audience of avid readers and writers, it was evident that while reading may be overshadowed by the more splashy means of entertainment these days, once instilled, it is a life-long joy that does not abate and can often reflect our experiences of the world. Kathi's sharply observant child's visit to a self-proclaimed hippie guru commune echoed audience members' own awareness of the quirkiness of family; Tanya's harassed daughter, being shoved into too-tight prom dresses by a nouveau-riche mom determined at all costs to prove her social worthiness, elicited gasps of recognition about the sometimes-terrifying impotency of adolescence; and my character's realization that the end of a centuries-long foreign dominion may be more of a tragedy than a triumph elicited contemplative nods from those who have themselves experienced displacement from a beloved place.
Though there can hardly be three more disparate characters, brought together they demonstrated that literature still has the power to bring us together, to gather up and interpret for us our collective humanity, showing that while we all may be different, through the miraculous transformation of reading we can, if only for the length of 400 pages or so, become one.