In Praise of Libraries!

Yesterday, I had to kill time (terrible metaphor) while waiting to hear a friend of mine do a reading of his memoir Blackboard at Book Passage in Corte Madera. I didn’t want to drive home to the East Bay and then make another trip to Marin County, so after I finished teaching in San Francisco, I took the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County and hung out at the Corte Madera Library.

With audio and ebooks so popular, I half expected the library to be a ghost town, inhabited by print books but no one there to read them. Happily, I was wrong, and while I only check out library books to listen to on Overdrive, I was reminded of what an amazing place libraries are. I also discovered that readers still use them!

When I first arrived, there were no parking spaces near the building (I’d expected the lot to be vacant). I had to drive around for 10 minutes before I found a spot. When I walked in the door, I realized this was a happening place. It wasn’t just buzzing with library workers. But people of all ages were using the space.

The children’s section had a steady stream of kids carrying books that they wanted to check out. As I walked from the entrance to the back of the building, hoping to find an empty seat where I could work on my laptop, I discovered that nearly every seat was filled. Some visitors were sitting in overstuffed chairs reading magazines or newspapers. Others were in the computer areas, intently focused on the screens. But even more were strolling the aisles of books, checking out the latest and selecting ones they wanted to borrow.

All of this was encouraging: traditional reading has not died out in America. But what I loved most was the feeling of community I felt with this world of readers. The Corte Madera Library’s physical plant has lots of light and wood paneling, so the atmosphere is welcoming. But it also was lovely just to sit there silently with others who were enjoying the space.

No words were exchanged, yet we all clearly were there because we wanted to embrace the world that the words in these books and other printed sources represented. They opened portals onto subjects we otherwise wouldn’t know about. And I was grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with what libraries signify: the egg of learning that never stops hatching as long as we’re open to what it offers.


Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.

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