Love Brooks' style. Those booties though!

Love Brooks' style. Those booties though!

A couple weeks ago, Adam and I made the short jaunt up to Lawrence at his sister Belinda's invitation for an author event featuring Geraldine Brooks!

Brooks was interviewed by novelist and KU professor Laura Moriarty (perhaps you've heard of The Chaperone?), and their conversation was smart and funny and totally entertaining throughout. (Adam only “rested his eyes” once.)

Since starting her career as a journalist, Australian-born Brooks has led an interesting life, traveling to some of the most dangerous places in the world (she was once jailed in Nigeria, suspected of being a spy). After she had children, she switched gears and became a novelist, which she's also pretty good at—she won a Pulitzer for her novel March.

I had never read any of Brooks' work before, so in preparation for the event I read her debut novel, Year of Wonders, and another novel from 2008, People of the Book. I really liked both, but between the two, I connected more with the main character in Year of Wonders, a woman in a small village in 1666 that becomes the epicenter of a plague epidemic. It was fun to read something so outside my normal fare, and despite some stomach-churning childbirth scenes (I'm definitely not cut out for the health-care profession) I couldn't wait to see what would happen (or who would get infected) next.

In the interview, Moriarty focused primarily on Brooks' most recent novel, The Secret Chord, a retelling of sorts of the Biblical story of David. The depth of research Brooks does is daunting to someone like me who would rather read fiction than ancient texts, but her enthusiasm for her topic and the admittedly juicy nature of the story intrigued me. I've been a little slumpy in my reading life lately, so I wasn't ready to attempt a third book by the same author right in a row, but The Secret Chord is definitely on my list of books to read in the future. Brooks' writing is just so smart—so well-researched, with such lovely, precise prose—I know I'm going to return to her again. She also mentioned her next book is going to be about a horse(!), which I am already 100% on board for.

One of the reasons I so love attending author speaking events is that the level of discourse soothes and encourages me. People who write novels for a living tend to have a very deliberate way of speaking that illuminates their intelligence. When the sound bites on the news appeal to the lowest common denominator (and the lowest total brain cells), it is so heartening to me to listen to a person speak in not only full sentences, but lovely, thoughtful paragraphs. (I also thought it was really cool how Moriarty, the interviewer, never once interrupted Brooks. It was surreal, you guys.) Sometimes I worry that we have lost the ability to engage with serious issues in a meaningful way, and knowing that people like Geraldine Brooks exist and are working away in this world makes me feel a teensy bit better.


The past few years, I've become increasingly interested in both minimizing my life and its accompanying clutter and using my local public library. The two go quite nicely hand-in-hand: the library offers me almost every new and exciting title I could want, and once I'm finished with a book I drop it in the box and it's one less item junking up my house.

A side effect of this phenomenon is that my lifelong desire to fill every nook and cranny of my living space with books has evaporated completely. I used to ask for bookstore gift certificates for every birthday and Christmas. As a ten-year-old, I once famously announced to my extended family that I planned to go “on a rampage” at B. Dalton at the mall. I wasn't just a reader, I was a collector, and part of the joy of reading was owning and treasuring shelf after shelf of the glossy, pulpy-smelling objects of my affection. I have a crystal-clear memory of nesting into our navy blue flowered sofa with a stack of Berenstain Bears books a foot high on my right. I would read one, place it in the “read” pile on my left, and then move on to the next adventure of Brother and Sister Bear. Those guys were always getting into trouble. Silly bears.

Now that my collector's itch has subsided (or succumbed to old age, perhaps), visiting bookstores is a more rarefied occasion for me. One time, though, that I absolutely can't resist bookstores is when I'm on vacation. I'm not big into souvenirs, but if I can find a book that tickles my fancy, it serves as a great memento of the trip and I'll have the eventual pleasure of reading it.

So when Adam and I and a couple of our good friends were in Omaha the other weekend and I spied a bookstore across the street, I had to stop in and explore. (Yes, Omaha! When you live in the Bread Basket of America, you make your fun where you find it.) Fortunately, my friend Christina is also a big reader (and a native Nebraskan!) and was up for checking it out.

Used bookstores are strange creatures. They're often disorganized, with idiosyncratic shelving systems and the occasional geriatric cat. I'm fine with all that. If I'm on vacation, I don't mind a treasure hunt.

But you guys...

This bookstore was the most jumbled, hodgepodge mix of everything under the sun that I have ever seen. As I live and breathe.

Just taking it all in...

I eventually managed to find the fiction section, which did appear to be roughly alphabetized. I also found this excellent book about, apparently, bass fishing.

There were handwritten signs posted throughout the store, recommending to patrons that if you couldn't find a book you were looking for that you ask for it at the desk. As if any single employee could locate one particular book in allllllllllllll of that.

Another oddity I'd never encountered before: half the store was completely dark. All lights off. I guess it was almost closing time anyway?? The rest was lit with an elaborate network of extension cords and shop lights, which, as the daughter of a retired fire chief, I wasn't able to completely ignore.

Let's just say, after volunteering in a library for a year, I was hivey just looking at those shelves. But it did make for a fun browse.

Adam and I poked around another cool used bookstore on our honeymoon in Hawaii. The Talk Story Bookstore is located on the island of Kauai, and it is the self-proclaimed “Westernmost Bookstore in the United States.”

Both Adam's and my hair look pretty different these days. Ah, young love. (We'll be married five years next month.)

Here's to great travels, lifelong memories, and crazy, jumbled, mixed-up bookstores!