Tag Archives: J. Dana Trent

That Ten Books Challenge Thing

authorsOh dear, that book list thing is circulating again, and a handful of people have challenged me.

One chapter of Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap contains a list of eleven books that influenced me. Anyone who’s done this challenge knows that narrowing to ten is hard, so rather than repeat those, here are eight books I swithered over when making that Little Bookstore list, plus a few published since then.

How many Hills to Hillsboro (Fred Bauer) – Published by Guideposts in the 1970s, it sat on a stack of books in my father’s office one day, whence I picked it up randomly and read it….

And read it, and read it, and read it again. Hillsboro started my lifelong affair with wanderlust. I still have that original copy. (I guess my dad never realized he owned it, since I stole it at age seven.) The book is about a family of five who bicycle across most of America. They don’t make it to the California coast before the summer is over, but that becomes part of this charming, gentle story about taking a long road trip together, replete with adventures, enlightenment, and fun.

Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap (Wendy Welch)The specifications for this list say books that have stayed with you in some way; this one pretty much changed my life. Since I wrote it, we’ve made friends with and met fascinating people—not superstars, like authors who hang out poolside with the fancy or famous—but very cool, salt-of-the-earth on Facebook types. And gone places and done stuff we wouldn’t have done before.

Jack and I still plan to visit Portugal because of all the lovely people who’ve contacted us from there. People in Poland are sending us letters now. The Korean Minister of Culture sent a congratulatory note after naming Little Bookstore a “Book of the Year” because it “uplifted the human spirit.” And lots of people visit our bookstore and tell us their stories. Which sounds all jet set, but was just a nice thing that happened because we had a story to tell that resonated with people. Yeah, this book stuck with me. :]

Winter in Moscow (Malcolm Muggeridge)Like Grapes of Wrath, this is a book that taught me about injustice, imbalance, politics versus people, and how life just sometimes goes wrong. Yet we can be humane and human in the midst of it.

Women’s Ways of Knowing (Belenkey et al)This is an odd book that came out on the 1980s, detailing research on how women acquire knowledge. It lists six stages, running from just “standing in their shoes and looking out” to becoming experts in a field. It’s psychology not so much made feminist as put into an entirely feminine atmosphere. It’s amazing how much can be measured when the people measuring it are the same as the people they are measuring. Women no longer have to fit men’s square pegs into their round holes—heh, no pun intended. This book defines women’s knowledge the way women feel themselves to possess it. It underpinned a lot of my later work in storytelling, and when Brene Brown’s Ted talk on vulnerability went viral, it felt like an affirmation of how women use emotional means as valid ways of learning what they need to know, among other concepts.

This book got me in trouble in grad school, though. I still remember a professor using the term “unnecessary beauty” to describe some artifacts like water pots, etc. that had been decorated even though the objects were “just functional.” Without thinking and without raising my hand, I just shot out, “That is an entirely male construct. Ask any woman in the world whether beauty is useful, or needful, and she can give you a whole new way of seeing how her life is ruled by it—or lack of it. And what’s more, beauty is defined by men.” It all kinda went downhill from there….

Cricket Magazine, roughly 1972-1977These are probably what set me on the road to ruin as a child, teaching a love of storytelling. This was a literary magazine with high quality illustrations, stories, and articles for kids ages 10 or so. I still have my collection. Trina Schart Hyman, Jane Yolen, Shel Silverstein: all the big guns wrote for this publication. Early exposure… there’s no cure for that. :]

A Candle for St. Jude (Rumor Godden)When I made the list in Little Bookstore, I actually left this one off because it was “higher” than all the others. This is about a down-at-heel yet genteel dance school run by an old woman who was a past master, and the relationship between her, her favorite student, and her most talented ones. It explores the human heart as much as the arts world, but particularly human hearts in the arts. Because fairly often, the music (or dances, or stories, or paintings) presented at a festival is more about the politics of who gets to play, than the beauty of the playing. I love this book.

Prayers from the Ark (trans. Rumor Godden)A collection of very sweet animal poems, translated by Godden from a WWII refugee who wrote them in French in a nunnery while recovering from a breakdown. They’re lovely, and thought-provoking and sweet and sometimes the wee bit scary.

Holy Bible (semi-anonymous)Who was it that said, “If the Bible weren’t the Bible, it would be banned for all that sex and violence and anti-feminine rhetoric?” I’m not clear on everything, I’m not feeling called on to have a position statement on everything, and I don’t care to debate stuff ad infinitum. But I read the Bible at least three times a week (which is as good as “every day” actually looks for some of us). Sometimes I’m moved and motivated, sometimes I’m confused, or challenged. That’s okay. There’s that prayer thing, too. It helps.

Now, here’s the thing: authors meet other authors, and we sometimes get a lot out of each other’s books, but if you mention one book and not someone else’s, it all gets a little sad. So at the risk of offending some new authors who are bound to get left off, here are some nice people from AuthorWorld, and their books that I loved:

Saffron Cross (J. Dana Trent) – A female Southern Baptist minister meets a Hindu Monk on eHarmony, and marries him. And they decide not ‘to each his/her own’, but to participate in each other’s worship, dedicating it as their own. Fasten your theological seat belts; it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

The Murderer’s Daughters (Randy Susan Myers) – a compelling novel about girls growing up in foster care, more or less – but dysfunction was never written with such lyricism.

Heart in the Right Place (Carolyn Jourdan) – Country girl making good in the city returns to the country when her dad needs help keeping his GP MD office open. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue, and some life lessons get learned.

Hooked (Tele Aadsen – she’s not finished yet. Check with Riverhead Press in 2015) Woman fishes for a living off Alaskan shore. Sex, water, salmon, self-discovery.

Second Wind (Cami Ostman) – Outrunning a divorce, she runs a marathon on every continent. And learns some interesting things about herself and other people. And icebergs.

Hiding Ezra (Rita Quillen) – There were lots of deserters in Coalfields Appalachia in the World Wars, mostly because their families really needed them more than their country. This is a compelling story about one such man.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, Scotland, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing

THE HOW I WRITE BLOG TOUR

The Monday book will return next week. My friend Susie Klein http://www.recoveringchurchlady.com/ asked me to participate in an ongoing blog tour called HOW I WRITE. I answer four questions, as she did for the person who asked her, and then I ask two other authors to answer them.

OK, here we go….

1- What am I working on?

A sequel to Little Bookstore.

2- How does my work differ form others of its genre?

Well, most of what I write is either academic work, memoir, or blog. As blogs go, bookstore bloggers are all very different from each other in our senses of humor and senses of purpose, but we tend to revisit similar themes. Save the bookstores. Cherish your local. Shop bricks and mortar. Don’t self-publish with Amazon believing they’re there to help you. Aren’t books great? Aren’t customers cute? Those kinds of things.

In terms of my memoir writing being different, it’s like asking “how is this poem different from that one?” All sonnets have the same strict form, and yet within them you can write about absolutely any subject you want to. So all memoirs are alike in that they’re carved from your perceptions and experiences, and they couldn’t be the same any more than two snowflakes could, because they’re your perceptions and experiences.

3- Why do I write what I do?

Joan Didion and Flannery O’Connor both said more or less that they write to figure out what they think and know. I write because I’d explode if I didn’t. It is the perfect way to order thought, smooth out roughness, reconcile, regroup, even relegate to the dark corners. Once it’s on paper, it’s out, not in, whether anyone ever sees it or not. That’s why I write, but as to writing what I do, well, agents in general and mine in particular are always urging writers to write the story only they can tell. That makes sense to me; we’re all trying to save the world and write something meaningful, but trying to write a story that needs to be told isn’t the same as telling your story. The only story you can tell is yours – fiction, non-fiction, narrative, poem, even photo or mathematics formula. It has to belong to you in some unique way.

4. How does my writing process work?

Despite my best efforts to have a schedule or regimen, I continue to work on whatever laptop is available, in the bookstore, between customers and after hours. We have three laptops available for customers and for special orders, so I try to remember to save the thing on a thumb drive in case I use a different one tomorrow.

I’m tagging two author friends: Dana Trent http://jdanatrent.com/blog/ who wrote The Saffron Cross, and Cami Ostman http://www.camiostman.net/about/ whose first book was Second Wind, and then co-edited Beyond Belief: the secret lives of women in extreme religions.

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The Monday Book: SAFFRON CROSS by J. Dana Trent

saffron corssDana and I made Twitter-friends (is that a noun?) a couple of weeks before the Movable Feast of Authors run by Bookmarks, a very active lit-lovers group in North Carolina. The Feast entailed twenty tables of eight people, with authors moving in ten-minute intervals between them–a wild ride covered with online publicity, so Dana and I were in a lot of tweets together. One day I clicked on her icon and found her book was about being an ordained Baptist minister married to a Hindu who used to be a monk.

Well, that sounded intriguing….

Dana and I got a chance to chat after the event, and we traded books. (Don’t tell our publishers, ‘kay? Thanks.) She and Fred had gone on bookstore dates, and I’m fascinated by interfaith connections, so it seemed pretty natural.

More natural than the eHarmony match Dana and Fred made. Her book is less about external pressures put on them by others than personal expectations and changes. That’s what I liked most about her writing. Dana left a lot of space for others to interpret or extrapolate, by holding her narrative to “This is what happened to us; this is what I learned; this is how I understand the contentious points.” Saffron Cross is an honest description of a wife reconciling her full-on belief in Jesus with her husband’s full-on devotion to Krishna.

Early in the marriage, they decided they couldn’t take an easy road and worship separately as each saw fit; they had to share seeking God as a foundation for their shared lives. That made for some very interesting theological points not easy to reduce in a review. If I say that Dana and Fred set up a Hindu-tradition altar in their homes and included Jesus and the Bible in its objects, you might get the idea that this was an easy compromise, rather than a parsed-apart and carefully considered decision about how the two faiths work. You might think about hair-splitting, mental gymnastics, and semantic end runs around scripture.

And that would be the wrong idea, because nothing comes easy in this pragmatic narrative. Back when Sue Monk Kidd wrote about her rejection of male-centered religion, my friends and I who read her memoir were frustrated. She avoided the central question: What about Jesus? If a guy says “I’m the son of God” and you relegate him to “I’m a son of God,” then you’re worshiping someone who belongs in a lunatic asylum. If Jesus isn’t God’s son, he’s a nut case. The “all religions lead to the real God” approach is facile if the only way to make that happen is reducing Jesus’ status.

Dana and Fred don’t take that route; she addresses both anecdotally and in theological observation that she believes Jesus is God’s son. Her meshing this with Fred’s approach, finding peace that they’re both on honest paths, proves less semantic than thought-provoking.

If you’re interested in Christianity because you are a Christian; if you’re anthropologically interested in faith communities; if you’re a Hindu frustrated with Western materialism; if you find marriage stories voyeuristically interesting; or if you like the idea of a woman Baptist hospice minister, you’ll find Saffron Cross a densely packed book that keeps you up late.

And I admit to giggling, thinking of how hard it was explaining Little Bookstore in ten minutes to eight strangers, and there’s Dana sitting down to her tables: “Hi, I’m a Southern Baptist married to this nice Hindu guy…” Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

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