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The honest book review.

IMG_2820I’ve been getting some beautiful messages in response to my book’s release. People I know – and people I don’t know – have read the story, been moved by the message, and taken the time to contact me to share feedback. I’ve received great reviews on Amazon and been positively featured in several book and/or reading blogs that reach thousands of people. I’ve been asked to be the featured author in a public open mic forum called “Wordier than Thou” in both St. Pete and Sarasota. I’m learning a great deal about writing, publishing, and myself as the process of writing a book and taking it to full fruition unfolds.

Almost every review mentions how honest the book is. “Brutally honest” they often remark. Odd, because when a section of the book won the New Southerner Award, the judge said that “honesty” is why this story stood out from many others. And the editor  at Hillcrest Media, who wrote the back jacket, used the same term. Of course, I hammer home how important writing honestly is in my memoir classes, and I endeavor to be as forthright as I can be, both on the page and in my life, but the fact that the most memorable element of my story seems to be brute honesty has me wondering about honesty in the bigger scheme.  Honesty is a great virtue, but “brutally” suggests a raw and possibly unkind version of a tale that leaves damage in the wake. That certainly is not my intent.

So, concerned, I asked a few readers if they felt the book was unkind, or the message stinging or unfair or TOO honest. So far, everyone has assured me that the honesty they are talking about is refreshing and forces a certain degree of truth from the recesses of their gut as they see parallels in their own life. They appreciate how I admit my own flaws or mistakes, and that I seem to be striving to recognize and overcome personal delusion rather than pointing fingers at others or acting the victim. Since self actualization is my intent when writing, I’m glad that comes across. In the end, it is not that I’m ultra sensitive about reviews or commentary, but I sure do want to listen to people openly to really hear what they think and feel, so I can consider if I am sending the message I’m trying to establish  with my words.

At the end of each month, I’m sent an accounting of how many of my books were sold on Amazon and I can’t help but wonder about the strangers who may live many miles away, that felt the urge to pay for and read my story for no reason other than being curious or because they find the subject matter appealing. Such a long literary reach reminds me how important it is to deliver a truly valuable reading experience to people who have so many choices for their precious leisure time nowadays. It is an honor to have someone devote hours of their life to consuming your words.

Suzanne Schoenholt hosts a well-known blog called “Serial Reader”. She is one of the professional readers who reviewed my book and posted a very positive review on Amazon. Before I witnessed her “official” commentary, she wrote me to let me know she had read half the story. I opened my phone message to the following:

I love it! I am working in Minnesota and at the end of my long days, I curl up in the air conditioned bedroom on the third floor of a house I am taking care of, with your book. 

I love it for all of the following:

  • Walden quotes
  • Education about what it means to eat a pig (I haven’t since 1978!)
  • Kathy
  • Your incredible understated humor
  • Your humility
  • Your great writing!!
  • Education about country life in Georgia
  • Half-backs

 I am not sure how far I am along. Have just witnessed chicken funeral and your great humor about your urge to grab your 7-year-old daughter’s hand-drawn tombstone for a scrapbook!

The rest of the message is not necessary to share, but I was  honored that she not only read and reviewed my book, but bothered to tell me what she enjoyed. Taking the time to contact me was an act of kindness to a writer, a woman, and a fellow literary aficionado.

The ability to connect and forge respectful friendships with people I’ve never met and may never meet is humbling. Writing can forge boundless connections between people, no matter where or how they live or how diverse their personal circumstances may be. While I’ve always know this intellectually, witnessing it experimentally is profound.

I’m also floored by how people find out I’ve written a book when I haven’t sent them notification or done anything to promote it. Students I haven’t spoken to in 15 years write to tell me they picked the memoir up with little expectation, buying it  out of some sense of loyalty, but then find they are moved by the story and my writing. Means a lot to hear that from people who are a part of your ongoing life story.

The other day I received a Facebook message from someone named Ben who wanted to congratulate me on writing a book. The moment I saw his name, I recognized it , but I just couldn’t place him. I assumed he was a writing student or perhaps a father of a former dance student.  I checked out his face on Facebook hoping this would trigger my memory, but I didn’t recognize his face  I showed his picture to David who also didn’t recognize him and we speculated a bit about what area of my past he might be from. But a second message from Ben came and suddenly memory clicked. Ben is the man who bought our house in Georgia and who owns it now! We’d had some communications many years ago over disruptive details regarding the sale and a few months after he moved in, he found something very dear to me, a handmade collage of every dance picture I ever had from my years in New York (and no copies) that Mark had tossed out by the barn. Recognizing that the item was very personal, he contacted me and put it aside so I could pick it up on my next trip to GA.   Even ruined as the collage was, I deeply appreciated that someone, even a stranger, cared enough to understand that such a thing would be important to someone who was so deeply connected to dance and her artistic past.

I checked Ben’s Facebook page to be sure my guess was accurate, and sure enough, spied many photos of a very happy Ben enjoying life with other upbeat people in what was my former dream home. We sold the place furnished, so the furniture, rugs, and general ambiance that sets the scene of his photos is exactly the same as photos of my past family Christmases etc…  only in this case, the faces standing before the mantle or in my kitchen are of strangers rather than my family. Weird, that.

The timing of Ben’s message seemed remarkable, because I had been thinking all day about who owned the house now- years later. Just that evening, David and I ducked under the gate and hiked up the winding road to put a copy of my  book on the porch. This was my very last visit ever to Blue Ridge and leaving my story behind was a part of my closure and  symbolic that, once and for all, I could leave the sad memories of that place in the past where they belong. I left a note with the book saying that I felt anyone living in this house should know the story behind it. My book is a part of the legacy of the house now, and I sincerely hope the ongoing narrative of every family who passes that threshold knows joy, appreciation and a collective appreciation for the beauty and good intention that were a part of the original foundation of the home. How odd that I was thinking of Ben all day, and he randomly  felt moved to contact me after 7 years of non-communication. I told him he didn’t have to buy the book, I’d left it as a gift on his doorstep. The energetic lives of people are so interwoven, through shared experience, history, or thoughts – they do seem to create our reality.We must always treat others with respect and care, for they are likely to reappear in our lives in one form or another.

Anyway, I deeply appreciate those who have read my book and taken the time to reach out to let me know about their reading experience. More than anything else, this has kept my creative fires burning. I write now with a sense of the sacred importance of my words, knowing someday, they may land in other person’s lap and might make a difference – to them or to me.

For readers past and present: thank you for being my muse, my support, and a testament to right intention .

A few blogger reviews to cut and paste if you are curious :

https://serialreadersblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/the-simple-life-comes-at-a-cost/

http://asthepageturns-page.blogspot.com/2016/07/my-million-dollar-donkey-review.html

https://www.amazon.com/review/R2GF40QE81SNXG/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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