Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Comforting Friendships

Oasis Feature: Friendship and Books

Do you order books and forget which books you've ordered? I do. I also make a habit of immediately reading every book I order- that way I won't stockpile and feel driven to persevere through the pile until the task is done. Now that books are so accessible online, I try to pace my reading. I have spent long periods of my life just living to get back to my book-for example, my entire 18th year was spent in a fiction-soaked haze. (While I was being hazed in the Navy.) No plans. No conversations-and I mean no dynamic conversation because my mind was focused on the book. Eventually, recognizing my escapist tendencies, I cut myself off from reading most fiction (except classics). I needed to learn from what I read, come up with a plan of action to solve my real life problems, and live in the moment.
Recently, I read The Wednesday Sisters (Meg Waite Clayton), and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I saw the book at Borders in Plaza Las Americas, and was drawn to both the title and the cover design. I picked it up but hesitated to buy it. I thought I might order it online. Coincidentally, the next day I had contact with the author through She Writes, and immediately clicked over to Amazon to order the book.(I consider chance events to be a sign!)  However, later, I couldn't be sure if I had ordered it.

ConfessionMy covert-okay I admit it-sneaky book reading happened innocently enough. 

After a long airplane journey, I waited  in Plaza until someone could come by and collect me. Since I had so many hours to kill before their arrival, I thought, why don't I look for the book and read a bit? I enjoyed reading The Wednesday Sisters so much that I forgot I was tired and hungry. When my company arrived, I reluctantly set the book down. I had such a pleasant time! I was hooked. Still uncertain as to whether I had ordered the book, I started making excuses to stop at Borders where I would willingly wait to be picked up. I read as much as I possible while in the store. I confess, I purposely mis-shelved the book so that I alone could find it. (I made sure there was a copy left in the correct section in case someone came in to legitimately buy the book.) I couldn't stop thinking about the characters. I made excuses to wait at Borders. I even took the bus. No easy task in Puerto Rico because the signs haven't been updated to reflect the new bus numbers. Is the T-3 the same as A-3?  (It is.) Another day, I took the train, which left me a good 20 hot-and-humid-walking-minutes away from my goal. One day, I persevered through the pouring rain, negotiating a heavy book bag and over-sized umbrella just so I could make it to Borders. As I persevered through the torrent, I visualized that hot cup of Earl Gray tea with milk and honey- and most importantly- the book. A week later, my husband found an unopened package in our cavernous mini-van.  Oh this arrived while you were away. I think it's a book. Umph!

What is so special about this book?

The story centers around a group of women who happen to meet at a local park, and eventually decide to start writing together. All of the women have different personalities but share an interest in reading books and the Miss America pageant. Watching the pageant together over the years brings the women together, and provides a set-point frame to highlight changes within the women, and within society as a whole. However, it is the meaning of sharing life through friendship that gives the book it's profound emotional impact.

It takes place in California and reminded me of the time I spent in Alameda, a little town across the Golden Gate Bridge. My personal experience with an area near the setting helped me to visualize the surrounding houses and the park where the women met. I thought deeply about the era the book covers, and wondered how life was for those who weren't right in the middle of the struggle for change. I went to a State college in Southern California, and most of my professors were involved in some aspect of the 60's- either they were involved protests to end the war in Vietnam and/or fought for equality of rights for women and other minorities.  (Remember when women were referred to as a minority?)

My professors were about nine years older than me, and I often wondered if I had been born too late. I admired the commitment of people who fought for civil rights during the 60's. Even though I am a veteran, I still appreciate people who stood against the war. I believe that their fight was against the decision makers in government and not the soldiers. I also knew people in the military who were against the war but when you're in the military, you do what you are told to do. It's part of your duty to follow orders.You don't decide which wars to support. Clayton brilliantly captures the ordinary woman's feeling of being caught in opposing ideas.
She brings alive that time of change for those on the fringes of the action, and shows how it impacts the ordinary lives of five women. You experience how it might have felt to grow up at that time, and realize that your life could be about more than getting married and raising children- that it might also include a space for a mother who wants to be a writer, for example.

Mother's Aren't Always Satisfied 

I was a young teenager when one of my aunts ran away from her her husband and children. It was shocking. Unheard of ! What kind of a mother leaves her children? Later, she was reunited with her children but she filed for a divorce. It mystified  her husband. Why would she leave? Didn't he take care of her and provide her with everything? He became enraged and then bitter that she had left him. To this day, he continues to hold onto his "anti-woman's-libber" grudge. I can't be angry with my aunt. She was the only person around who knew that books were important; and she gave my sisters and me the best books for gifts. She could discuss the mysterious Kierkegaard , and I remember my uncle hating her passion for study. He ridiculed her elevated conversation, and her love of books. Reading Clayton's book made me remember how difficult it was for women such as my aunt to find a way to thrive.

Even in the 70's, it was challenging for women to negotiate a new place in society. It's easy to forget. When I was in the Navy, the sailors wrote "Bitch go home" on my locker. They wrote vulgar comments about me on the bathroom walls, stole my coffee cup and clothes from my locker, taped up torn out pornographic pages from magazines and wrote my name on them. I know that not all sailors actively participated in this behavior, but I also know they all knew who was involved.
A few years after I was out of the military, I ran into the blond, soft spoken, beautiful and thin young wife of one of the Sailors that I had served with. She was widowed after her husband's motorcycle crashed somewhere in California. When we talked, she offered me an apology because her husband was the second class petty officer who secretly led the other Sailors on a vendetta to make my life miserable. I asked her why he did it, and she said he hated you because you were a woman in the military, and that was a man's job. 

I appreciate The Wednesday Sisters because it offers a  perspective on how important it is for women to support each other. It makes me aware of how much society has changed. It reminds me to value friendship, and know that genuine friendship, including complete acceptance,  is one of the greatest gifts you can give or receive.

Click the Amazon link on the sidebar to buy your own copy of Meg Waite Clayton's, The Wednesday Sisters.

Have a lovely week and remember to celebrate your friendships!


  1. The Wednesday Sisters sounds like a fascinating book, Cynthia. I'm adding it to my list of library orders. Thanks for a wonderful review!

  2. I must confess, I have a stack. Some interesting looking, some not so. They are leave-behinds from visitors. And I'm just now starting to read them after a busy summer. I had forgotten how lost I can get in a book. My mother used to say "get your nose out of that book. You're missing the scenery". And she was right in a sense, but the scenery is so much more interesting when it's been filled out and colored more vibrantly from the words in a book.

  3. I just left a comment but it disappeared - blogger is playing up so much atm


  4. Willow, I'm sure you will love the book! The female characters are captivating.

    Delana, I know what you mean. We used to read in the car, and my father would say the same thing! If he had given it a bit more time, we would have stopped anyway. Car sickness! I think a lot of people get a stack of books and read them when summer comes...or at another time. I used to read before bed...but that was too risky. I might stay up all night!!

    Hi Ms. FF! Too bad. I love reading your comments. Thanks for letting me know you were here! xx

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  6. I don't have a particular genre of reading material that I adhere to. Right now I'm reading It's Superman by Tom De Haven. Nor did I run into any difficulties in my Law Enforcement career with fellow (male) officers. I may have been lucky in that we treated each other with the same respect we would treat a family member or maybe they were just "raised" right. Enjoyed this piece, Cynthia,

  7. Lovely thoughtful reviews!
    Reading is the great joy of my life --well, after my grandson....
    Two recommendations both excellent.

    The Hare With Amber Eyes Edmund deWaal (non fiction)
    Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson also non fiction

    Sorry I have been absent so long
    greetings and love from New York

  8. You have a lovely blog here. There are loads of informative and entertaining posts here. Thanks for visiting me.

  9. What a brilliant review Cynthia...I will be sure to get myself a copy. xv

  10. Elizabeth,
    Thanks for the visit and the supportive comments. I hope your creative writing workshop was a success! How exciting to set the workshop in Morocco- a creative and inspiring location!

    I'm glad you had such a good experience in your law enforcement career. I'm sure the fact that I was 18-we were all young-contributed to the out of control harassment behavior. Also, I was in a field that had been all male, and being a ground breaker is often quite difficult. There are many fine people who serve- and you are one of them.

    Anne, thank you for coming over from Sunday's Child. I hope you come by again!

    Vicki,thanks. I know you will enjoy reading it. I'm typing next to this lovely photograph image of a woman under an umbrella walking down a wet street. Does that ring any bells? Your book, "My French Life",is a wonderful inspiration.

  11. I can see why this book would call to you. How funny that you hid it in the bookstore and forgot that you'd bought it. There is no excuse for looking down on someone who serves due to their gender or, for that matter, their sexual orientation.

  12. love your blog--books are my favorite vice;-) I will be back and this one to my list

  13. Sarah,
    Thanks for coming over to read. I keep thinking about your part of the world because my daughter in studying in a nearby state. I appreciate your support and sentiments. I hope your art show is a great success!

    Hi C.M., thanks for visiting and welcome. I'd love to read about your reaction to "The Wednesday Sisters." Enjoy your!


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