On November 7th the Books Between Friends book club spent the evening on a mini road trip. We had dinner as a group at the Boxcar Grille and then carpooled to Lenoir-Rhyne University to hear Tommy Orange speak of his new and wildly popular debut novel There There, as a part of the college-hosted Visiting Writer Series 2019–2020.
It was raining when we first arrived for the 7:00 pm event at Lenoir-Rhyne, and though I am from the area I’d never been to the campus. It was much bigger than I’d expected, being a graduate of the quaint Catawba College of Salisbury.
Rich, our library branch manager and book club organizer dropped us off at the door and we scurried through the chilly rain into the Belk Centrum auditorium. The turn-out was pretty good and we all waited in the lobby for a meeting to finish up in the auditorium room. When the doors opened, we made our way inside, brochures in hand, and found seats to settle in for the “show.”
A lot of author events I have been to have consisted of an author, a microphone, a long talk about “why I wrote this book” followed by audience questions. This event unfolded much differently. For about 20 minutes prior to the student introduction of the author, a 2-man band entertained us with modern-Native melodies.
The band name was Chris Ferree and Medicine Crow. They are a local Native American rock and Americana music band. The Native American flute playing, melancholic-yet-hope-filled lyrics, and soft acoustic guitar music were perfect mood-setters for the event. Songs of the plains, mountains, buffalo, and freedom filled the auditorium, an unexpected but pleasant surprise for attendees. The pain and suffering of a people displaced from their lands were interlaced with a yearning for the earth, for nature, and for freedom.
Several book clubs traveled in for the event including one from Asheville, and ours. One Native American gentleman drove up from Atlanta, Georgia to hear Tommy Orange speak. His grandfather had been the first Native American man to graduate from Lenoir-Rhyne and is in the Hall of Fame for playing football at the college.
Tommy Orange was introduced by a student of the college who gave her account of reading There There in one of her college classes, and how the book opened her eyes to a culture she had thought she understood. I shared the same sentiment while reading There There.
Tommy Orange opened with a few words about the discomfort of public speaking — a big part of his life now that his book has gained popularity. His speaking voice was gentle, relatable, and left me with the feeling that he has so much to say, so much to offer in his writing. He began by reading from the interlude section of There There and to hear the story unfold in the author’s voice was truly special.
Tommy Orange is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma. He received his MFA in American Indian Arts, is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He also garnered notoriety with a 2017 L.A. Times article entitled, “Thanksgiving is a Tradition. It’s Also a Lie.”
There There is a book about the modern-day experiences of urban Native Americans living in Oakland California, where the author grew up. Told through a dozen characters, Orange builds the narrative in intertwining pieces as the reader works to get to know each character and eventually begin putting the pieces together for a dramatic end.
The story is raw, honest, and reads with in a bit of a “stream of consciousness,” shuffled way mirroring the disconnection of the Natives from both their original lands and the reservations from where they’ve been told stories throughout their life. Many of the characters struggle with identity and addictions as they navigate a world they aren’t sure how they fit into.
The twelve characters make their individual ways for various reasons to the Big Oakland Powwow where they are united in a violent, unspeakable act. Other topics dealt with in the novel are substance abuse, alcoholism, and suicide. The struggle for the characters with their own identity and what it means to be a Native runs throughout the narrative.
The rest of the event featured Orange and another Native woman in two armchairs on the stage in a Q & A conversational fashion. A book signing followed.
Our group left before the book signing to beat the weather and get back before it got too late so I did not get the opportunity to speak with Mr. Orange. I am happy to hear that he is already working on a follow-up novel. I hope that we will cover that novel as well in our group.
Orange spoke insightfully about the lives of Native Americans in contemporary society. He had an understated charisma about him and so much of what he said was an excellent companion to the material we had read going in. We’re looking forward to discussing his novel at our November 19th meeting. Our book club’s selections are sort of all over the board. We read both fiction and nonfiction titles and don’t really settle on one particular genre. I like to keep our reading choices fresh by challenging participants with a variety of topics and types of books rather than falling into a rut by only doing mainstream authors or only feel-good stories. — — Rich Haunton, Branch Manager
Books Between Friends has been a beautiful social and intellectual experiene for me since I joined a little over a year ago. If your local library hosts a book club I encourage you to join it and participate. If your town hosts author events like the one we attended, I also encourage you to get involved. Meeting the authors adds such a deepened reading experience for readers.
There There is a book worth taking the time to read. I assure you, your eyes will be opened to the Native American experience in new ways.
Christina Ward 💗 is a poet, writer, avid reader, and columnist for the ONE newspaper, where portions of this article will appear next week.
I just finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
All. The. Feels.
The naturalist within me sang circles and ran around excitedly, arms in the air and miniature binoculars on the ready — while reading this intensely poetic and nature-filled joy of a book.
To say that I could not put it down is an understatement. I was consumed by it. And it has been a very long time since a book has affected me this way.
Reminiscent of my reading of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac in my college years, this book had all the nature I needed with a healthy dose of character development and plot. The story carried me on wings of curiosity while the characters unfolded, each to a different amusement.
I am from rural North Carolina and am quite familiar with our beautiful coastal marshlands, but this deep dive into the region was spectacular. Some of the descriptions reminded me more of regions further south, but as the story moved through these lush marshes — I didn’t care if the precise trees, grasses, or Spanish moss dripping from the trees was exactly right.
For once I didn’t find myself looking it up — to be sure the nature descriptions were right for the area. It infuriates me to read books that get the seasons and the botanical inclusions all wrong. This story carried me so well and the descriptions were so on point that I didn’t feel the need to investigate. It felt right. The author, being a nature scientist herself, had such a strong and authoritative, trustworthy voice throughout, that the reader is left to just enjoy the narrative.
Omniscient POV was also a great choice for this novel. The reader is able to have a birds-eye view into this sleepy town.
And speaking of birds — as someone who thoroughly enjoyed my college ornithology classes and enjoyed the field work that happened to be on the coast of North Carolina — I wholeheartedly loved the birds in Where the Crawdads Sing. The birds were so involved in the story that they are almost a character in and of themselves.
I would say, as well that the marsh is its own character — as fully developed as the human characters in the story. All five senses as well as a deep sense of wonder are engaged throughout the story by the movements and moods of the marsh, so loved by the “Marsh Girl.”
This is a beautiful debut novel celebrating wildlife, natural experiences, and leading us through a moving coming-of-age story into a gripping murder mystery.
This book has it all. I was moved to laughter, to wonder, to fear, and to tears. If you read a book at all this year — let it be this one!
Recently I read the novel Tilda’s Promise, by novelist and poet Jean P. Moore for our book club selection. Jean joined us to discuss her novel and I wrote about that here.
Review of Tilda’s Promise
Tilda Carr is afraid to go to sleep. Terrible things can happen in your sleep, like what happened to Harold. After forty years of marriage, Tilda finds herself alone and navigating her grief with as much grace as she is able. A funny thing happens when you are grieving — the world goes on.
Tilda faces the challenge of growing in her grief. Grief is an unwelcome teacher that pushes and pulls at Tilda as she turns her focus outward. The neighbor’s wife leaves her husband unexpectedly and Tilda simply can’t just let this man and his teenage daughter suffer through this alone. Something must be done about this.
Tilda’s granddaughter is also suffering greatly with the loss of her Grandfather, but something else is going on with Tilly. Tilda feels drawn to her pain, burdened with confusion. Tilda knows she must find a way to reach her, to understand her grief through eyes a generation away from her own. Can she really understand? Can she help Tilly through whatever is consuming her? Suddenly the granddaughter she’s known, who is named after her, no longer wants to be Tilly. How can Tilda bridge the grief between them?
Tilda’s Promise reaches into the places of us that want to judge, that want to run away, that want to crumple up and give up — and hands us Tilda, a tender woman who has suffered a great loss. She does not fold in on herself for long. Her attention belongs to the living, and in them, her life can gain traction.
The novel moves compassionately through the lives of Tilda and Tilly who are both suffering insurmountable grief. We are taken on the slow road of sorrow and through these two very different people, we learn lessons that only emotional pain and tragedy can teach us. As the storyline slowly unfolds, we experience renewal, empathy, and strength of character through Tilda, a woman who keeps her promises.
Pain teaches us to redefine ourselves.
I enjoyed the emotional depth of this novel. For a novel to be truly effective, the main character has to face challenges, grow, overcome, and share that experience with the reader. Tilda certainly does that and the reader finds it easy to be invested in her journey.
Other themes worthy of mention in this story involve Jewish customs, which are interwoven throughout the story. I find the inclusion of faith to varying degrees with the characters to add further depth and open up questions about how faith can absorb grief or catalyze growth through grief.
Issues of gender and sexuality are of great importance to the story as well, causing Tilda, as well as the reader, great introspection. Can love overcome confusion?
I welcome you to read Tilda’s Promise and experience these characters through the eyes and heart of empathy. Jean P. Moore handles grief in such a tender way through these characters. Her novel is well-written and compassionate, asking tough questions, some of which must be answered to the readers’ interpretation.
More Information about Jean P. Moore, novelist and poet:
Award-winning author, Jean P. Moore, is a novelist, poet, and non-fiction writer. Her novel, Water on the Moon, was published June 2014 and was the winner of the 2015 Independent Publishers Book Award for contemporary fiction. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals such as up street, SN Review, Adanna, The Timberline Review, Angels Flight Literary West, Distillery, Skirt, Slow Trains, Long Island Woman, the Hartford Courant, Greenwich Time, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Additionally, a memoir piece, “Finding Charles,” appears online in Persimmon Tree, Summer, 2011. Several anthologized poems can be read in Women’s Voices of the 21st Century, 2014. Her chapbook, Time’s Tyranny, Finishing Line Press, published in October 2017, was nominated for The Massachusetts Book Award, 2018.
Thanks for reading this book review. Visit Jean P. Moore’s website and subscribe to her newsletter to stay updated on upcoming novels!