Time Well Spent

Last night I attended the Concordia National Book Awards. hosted by John Ydstie, National Public Radio. As I was walking out the door, my son’s friend said, “Not what I would like going to!” The boys had an evening of woodworking on the lathe and Dremmel in mind. It got me wondering. WHY should anyone go to a book reading?

It’s entertaining. It’s fun. There are sometimes drinks or snacks. But what is it really?

It’s a time to celebrate books. 

Concordia College President William J. Craft welcomed the crowd with heart-warming words: Books Matter.  As he spoke, I could only nod my head. Yes. Yes, they do.

It’s an opportunity to listen to artists talking about their craft. 

Neal Shusterman author, Jill Kandel, in-Between Cultures, Author, writing , Book Awards   Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman, Jill Kandel, So Many Africas, books , author, awards

Neal Shusterman, National Book Award Winner, Young People’s Literature, spoke about his book Challenger Deep. The title comes from the deepest known point on the earth, a spot in the Mariana Trench. It lies 6.6 miles below the surface of the waters. South of Japan, east of Indonesia, near the island of Guam. I was intrigued.

Shusterman spoke about writing the book to process his son’s years of mental illness. As an author, he sat on stage, and spoke to a group of strangers, about the pain of being a parent with a child who suffers. How writing helped and healed and allowed him to make sense of those years.  He spoke about things the American health care system does well, and not so well.

I sat and listened, mesmerized, as he spoke of art bringing clarity and beauty into a difficult situation.

Sy Montgomery, Jill Kandel, Soul of an Octopus, So Many Africas. National book awardsSoul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery

Sy Montogmery, finalist in nonfiction, spoke about her book The Soul of an Octopus. Sy spoke about her love affair with animals, their minds and emotions. She read portions of her book, ranging from the first time she put her arms into an octopus’s tank and felt the joy of friendship, to watching octopuses mate. We laughed and sighed at her glorious words and insights into a world as foreign to us as the Mariana Trench. Yet, a world, that exists and breaths and fills our planet with many unique qualities. Did you know Octopuses eat each other? Good to know.

It’s a time to learn about the author’s upcoming projects. 

Neal and his son (who is doing well) are writing the script and co-producing a movie for his book Challenger Deep. He’s working on another YA novel: a Utopian world. What happens when your dreams come true? Or beware what you wish for. That sort of book. I can’t wait!!

Sy has several trips planned  all over the globe. She will be studying leopards, then writing about and observing Wildebeest. She’s a remarkably funny and energetic woman.

It’s a time to expand your world. 

As I listened, I learned about the deepest place on earth, about octopus colors and tentacles, about mental illness and art. It expanded my world. I mean, really, I live in Fargo, North Dakota, and I went to an event and listened to two people who LIVE. To be in the same room with them, for an hour, was reason enough to attend.

It’s a time to be encouraged. 

I listened to Neal talk about finishing his book. “It was like a big puzzle and I didn’t know how to put it all together. When I finished, and sent it in to my editor, I didn’t know if it was my best work ever or if it was a failure. I was too close to it. I really couldn’t tell.”

To hear him say this was amazing. He said he was nervous sending his work in. He was nervous! Author of TEN books, and he was nervous.

I smiled as he told of waiting to hear back. And then his editor emailing, “This is your masterpiece!”

And in my heart, as I cheered him on, I was cheering myself on, too. 


Jill Kandel
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