Yesterday’s post was heavy and I can’t thank you enough for your love and support. My sister sends you non-germy long-distance hugs.
Today we’re going to concentrate on happier things because today we open up the discussion for this month’s Fantastic Strangelings Book Club pick, We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry. Have you started it yet? Have you devoured it? Are you certain that Greta Gerwin and Ava Duvernay need to pair up and make it into a movie? Are you waiting to read it when things get better and you’re on a lovely beach? All answers are fine because, as always, there are no rules with this book club. But if you have read it and want to discuss it you can do so on the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club Facebook page, or if you don’t do Facebook you can leave your thoughts here. Or you can lurk. I’m a big lurker.
If you’re a paid member of the club then you already receive my ridiculous emails with the Q&A and got a sneak peek of next month’s book but for you honorary members, I’m so excited to announce that next month’s book will be WOW, NO THANK YOU by the always hysterical Samantha Irby so we’ll be sending those out in a month.
(FYI…Samantha’s new book is a paperback so it’s less expensive than our normal $25 book club fee so we’ll be sending you something special along with the book to make it even more worth your while. YAY FOR SURPRISES!)
Also, a quick thank you here. The opening of Nowhere Bookshop is on hold until we can assure it’s safe for us and for you to be open. This book club is literally sustaining the store and our employees during this time. I cannot stress enough how lucky we are to have you. And for those of you who live overseas or who buy the book month to month on your own, consider buying from your local indie bookshop whenever you can. Lots of them are moving to online sales for the moment and have great books to hold you over.
And now, a Q&A with Quan Barry:
Me: Okay, I LOVED this book. Thank you for writing it! I was concerned when I first started it that I wouldn’t be able to keep all the characters apart but they were so fully formed that I could picture each of them easily and I actually missed them when the book was finished. How in the world did you do this?
Quan: I wish I could say I worked really really hard to make sure they were each distinct and memorable in their own way, but honestly, because I knew who these girls were pretty much from the get-go, it wasn’t difficult to show them in all their glorious messiness, warts and sparkles and Jordache, et al.
Me: Is there a character that you related to more than any of the others?
Quan: Hmmm…not really, but maybe I wish I were a little more like Abby Putnam.
There’s a fearlessness in her that I admire. I don’t think of her as being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she’s kind and reliable and a rock to her friends and pretty non-judgmental to boot. True, her raw vegetable diet would drive me nuts after a single meal, but in every other way she’s a keeper.
Me: There were so many times I screamed “YES! THIS EXACTLY” while reading your book that it was a bit insane and I probably scared everyone in my house. There are so many themes and life lessons that run through your writing but I think my favorite one was this: “AJ Johnson made a mental note to herself: always be laughing. The woman from the shop who’d read Sue’s Tarot just 30 minutes before was already being proven right. Fuck ‘em.” There’s a lesson I wish I’d learned in high school. Are there any other lessons you wanted to impart in the book?
Quan: I don’t think there are too many BLLs (Big Life Lessons) I condensed down into lines like the one you quote, but hopefully there’s a lot of little wisdom sprinkled throughout. There’s stuff about mother-daughters, about living your own dreams, about being creative and what it means to be a member of a team/community. Also, when the girls chant, “Be. Aggressive. B-E aggressive,” maybe what they’re really saying is stand up and be counted, be in whatever number you want to be among as you come marching in, head held high.
Me: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as an author?
Quan: As any kind of artist (and probably in any field in general), you just have to put in the work and let the chips fall where they may. Consequently, I readily acknowledge the importance of having said chips fall in your favor. We don’t like to admit how much luck and good fortune play prominent roles in our lives, but they do. We want to think we got where we are today solely on our own initiative, but the truth is that our success is often predicated on things beyond our control. This keeps me humble. I know loads of talented writers, and for most of them, their audiences will remain relatively small not because their books aren’t amazing, but just because of what Le Splotch would call that certain je ne sais quoi otherwise known as bonne chance.
Being an author has taught me to be grateful and humble about my work—grateful to be able to share it with an audience, and humble to know that I didn’t accomplish this in a vacuum.
Me: Amen. So what’s next for you?
Quan: I’m working on a highly meditative and hopefully thought-provoking book about a young Buddhist monk who goes on a search for a reincarnated lama in Mongolia. I’ve been lucky to have traveled extensively in Asia in many specifically Buddhist spaces and have spoken to a lot of people—monks, academics, everyday citizens, etc. I still have my work cut out for me, but although I’m not Mongolian and wasn’t raised Buddhist, I’m hoping to be as true to that culture and place as I can be.
PS. If you’re anything like me you’re reading more than ever right now and are needing wonderful book distractions so please share your favorite comfort book or current read in the comments. Right now I’m reading The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires: A Novel. If you like horror I think you’ll love it. It comes out in a few weeks.
Wash your hands. I super crazy love you.