Wednesday, December 02, 2009


The Hillside Club, Berkeley, California

The Hillside Club in Berkeley, California is an arts club, which regularly hosts musicians, scholars and writers. Their roster of visitors is pretty impressive, so when I was asked to read, I immediately jumped at the chance. The interior of the building is just beautiful. Apparently, the original structure burned down in the Great Fire of 1923--all that was left is the lamp you see in the photo above. But it's still a gorgeous building, and we did feel as though we'd entered some kind of dream when we walked inside.

The reading was also a chance for some of my family and friends in Northern California to come and hear me--I was very, very happy to see them. We'd originally intended to spend part of the holiday together, but since I got sick during Thanksgiving, our socializing time was cut short.

The room that evening was mostly full--we must have had around 50 people--and I was excited to share. There were students and neighbors and Club members, all sitting by the fire.

I started off the evening with my presentation on Japanese fairy tales. I've found that this is a good way to put my novel in some context, since much of the book is influenced by a kind of storytelling and an aesthetic that is slightly new for some readers.

Gordon likes this slide: it shows me presenting the "Nyanko shumai," or kitten shumai toy. I'm trying to explain at this point how animism was and is a huge part of Japanese aesthetics. We aren't to think of these kittens as having been turned in dumplings, but rather that dumplings themselves as so cute . . . they are as cute as kittens. Most of the audience leaves eventually understanding my point, but there are always a few for whom this concept is just too strange.

I read a section of the novel next, and answered questions.

Mrs. Dalloway's, the venerable Berkeley bookstore, came prepared to sell my book. And we did sell quite a few copies! This was a great deal of fun. Some women spoke to me about the role of "talent" in their lives, and their believe that talent could help and protect them. Others wanted to talk about the lure of Japan. Some had read the book, and felt that the fairy tale lecture changed their perspective of it.

I had a lot of fun interacting with readers and future readers. This, after all, is why we write books--so people will have something new and interesting to read. In some ways, this event has been my most favorite experience yet. The crowd was large, there were strangers and friends and family all mixed together, and I got to talk seriously about my work.

I do have to say--a book tour takes some getting used to. It takes a while to get your bearings and to understand what you are trying to accomplish and what you have to say. I am enjoying this part of having published a book more and more.

I was so happy to see a couple of Bread Loafers as well--here I am with writer Kirsten Menger Anderson, who is also pregnant, and who was across the hall from me this summer in Vermont. And here too is Yang Huang who just found herself a smart agent. It's really neat to travel from place to place and see Bread Loaf alums. It is true that the impact of Bread Loaf lingers--in a very positive way.

The next day, we were up early to fly back to NYC. I am always sorry to watch San Francisco Bay disappear from sight. I generally stay glued to the window till we cross the Rockies, and then I try to sleep.

I don't have a photo of New York from the sky, but the air that evening when we landed, was so clear and the lights were all so bright. And I thought to myself I was very lucky to be able to go from one glittering city to another in the space of a day.

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