Bookminded

books, art, culture, and other things I love

Category: NPR

Live at Boston’s Paramount Theater: Cheryl Strayed in Conversation with Tom Ashbrook.

Last night my friend D. and I sat in the balcony of a packed Paramount Theater in Boston to see On Point Live: an evening of NPR radio host Tom Ashbrook in conversation with Cheryl Strayed, author of the fabulous memoir Wild as well as Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of her Dear Sugar columns from The Rumpus.  Now, along with writer Steve Almond, Strayed hosts the podcast Dear Sugar Radio, which provides advice (of the practical and philosophical sort) to letter writers.

Preshow: we had to take a selfie. Me: "This would be a better photo if we had one of those sticks." D.: "Um, we're too old for selfie sticks."

Preshow: we had to take a selfie. Me: “This would be a better photo if we had one of those sticks.”                                                  D.: “Um, we’re too old for selfie sticks.”

When host Tom Ashbook took the stage, there was thunderous applause. Once things quieted down and he spoke, there were even some tears as he paused for a moment to thank his audience and his listeners for the kindness that they showed to him in the months since the loss of his wife to cancer at the end of November. There was another point in the evening when Ashbrook solemnly asked Strayed a question for his own twentysomething daughter–how does one at that age deal with loss of someone so significant as one’s mother. Strayed’s response was heartfelt and touching–emphasizing the importance of accepting the fact that grief is ongoing, but the reason for this is that it is recalling the love that was there. That is, the origin of grief is beauty and love–not ugliness. This insight was very meaningful, and the audience sat rapt as Strayed discussed the loss of her own mother.

Our view from the balcony.

Our view from the balcony.

Their conversation touched on topics (drawn largely from audience questions) that ranged from Strayed’s writing habits to her definitions of feminism in the 21st century–the latter in light of Elinor Burkett’s opinion piece in last Sunday’s New York Times that questions the authenticity of transgender women (previously male) defining what it means to be a woman. Though Ashbrook pushed her a bit on this point, Strayed maintained that there was room for anyone in the feminist movement, and suggesting that as times change, so do boundaries and definitions.

Toward the end of the evening, Steve Almond took the stage and revealed that he and Strayed had just wrapped up three days in the studio, recording 20 (!) hours of Dear Sugar material–I can’t wait for that! The show closed with news analyst Jack Beatty commenting on the impact and growth of On Point, which began as a radio program in the days after 9/11 and has emerged as a forum for a national conversation.

All in all, a delightful and inspiring evening!

Another public radio tote bag. (I have quite the collection going!)

Another public radio tote bag. (I have quite the collection going!)

Writing to Remember.

At my first college internship, I worked on the Obit Desk at a large metro newspaper North of Boston. From the perspective of a twenty-year-old, the job was the worst: the hours were bad (I had to be there by 6 am and it was a 40-minute drive from my Boston apartment), my supervisor was unfriendly, and my work (fact-checking obituaries) was uninspiring. Occasionally I would encounter an obituary that was interesting, and written with care—but the majority seemed to be routine catalogues of the basic biographical details of one’s lives. Sure, space came at a premium—submissions were billed by the line—but I often wondered why these remembrances didn’t try harder. There are likely many reasons that obituaries do not evidence literary flourish. Families and loved ones, exhausted from long illnesses or shocked by sudden deaths may lack the time and energy to memorialize the departed with anything more than the basics. Family connections and service times. But for each of those basic markers, there was an individual and interesting life that has a story.

When my grandmother died a few years back, I wrote her obituary. After my long ago stint at the obit desk, I knew what I didn’t want it to be. I wanted it to give readers that happened upon the entry a glimpse of who she really was, that is, though “Known to her many friends as Marge, she took great pleasure in answering to her other names: Mom, Gramma, and Great-Gramma” and to get a sense of how much she was cherished, “Her granddaughters fondly remember her as one who taught them grandmotherly things like baking and needlework (at both of which she was an expert) but also as someone who would serve M&Ms for breakfast, buy them their first lipsticks, and animatedly chat long distance when they phoned home from college. They both considered her an important friend and confidante.”

It was the most important thing I was ever tasked with writing.

Elissa Ely also knows how important these stories are. She writes The Remembrance Project for WBUR, for which she composes short essays based on the lives of individuals nominated by a loved one. If you haven’t followed this series yet, I highly recommend it—it is quite moving. This week’s piece on Lawrence Dorey had me in tears as a listened to its audio version on the radio. Each essay is beautifully done, but this one stuck with me (I think it was the mention of his connection with his granddaughter that got me).
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Bookminded Recommends: WBUR’s Digital Bookshelf.

Truth be told, I am never at a loss for book recommendations. I always have some books “on tap”–whether they be in the stack on my bedside table (that was a fib–I actually have a stack and a bin beside it!), scribbled in my planner after a friend recommends a title, on my bookshelves, or in my “to read” shelf on Goodreads. But sometimes I will hear something on my local NPR station, WBUR, about a book or an author and think it might be something that I would like to read. Often I am in the car and will forget to look them up after the fact. So that is why I am so excited about this: WBUR’s new Digital Bookshelf! 

Books are divided up by category and if you click on the book cover, it will also show links to WBUR coverage on the book–either show podcasts or articles. Such a great way to collect all of that content in one place–check it out!

My out-of-control bedside stack, which shows my range of reading genres--everything from the NYT to Joel Osteen! :)

My out-of-control bedside stack, which shows my range of reading genres–everything from the NYT to Joel Osteen! 🙂

I want a little sugar in my bowl.

Over the summer, I wrote about some of my favorite vacation books and Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar was on the listReaders may also be familiar with Strayed’s memoir, Wild, about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail–which is now made into a movie that is on my list for the semester break. Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of advice columns that Strayed wrote for the Dear Sugar column on The Rumpus and it is one of my favorite nonfiction reads in recent years. As I mentioned before on the blog, I read the book on a Boston-Denver flight and experienced the full range of human emotions as I read. My seat mate was stealing glances at me as I laughed and cried while turning the pages.

The Dear Sugar column may be gone, but now there is an exciting new project in development by WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate…a Dear Sugar podcast: hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond (who actually founded the original column)! The series officially begins in January; in the meantime, listen to this introductory podcast. Cheers and Happy Listening!  (And bonus points if you recognize my post’s title allusion.)

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