Thursday, August 29, 2019
August 29, 2019: Talking We the People: Toadstool Bookstore
[I’ve long been a fan of book talks, but since my most recent book, We the People: The 500-Year Battle over Who is American, is intended to be my most public yet, I’ve redoubled my dedication to talking about it anywhere and everywhere. Since I’m on sabbatical this fall and even more flexible, I wanted to take this week to highlight some of my prior and upcoming talks, as examples that I hope can lead to more such opportunities! I’ll travel and talk anywhere and am happy to pay my own way for the chance to share these stories and histories!]
On three distinct, equally inspiring conversations I experienced at my most recent book talk.
1) An Early Engagement: As is my wont, I arrived significantly early at Peterborough’s wonderful Toadstool Bookstore for my talk this past Saturday afternoon. That perpetual earliness is both a blessing and a curse, but this time it was certainly more of the former, as my seat next to the display of my book and talk info meant that I was able to sell a couple copies before the talk began. That was much appreciated, but I appreciated even more my conversations with those potential readers, and especially one with a young man who is considering writing his own book (on why, contrary to popular stereotypes, millennials will save the US and the world). The conversation about writing, publishing, and many related topics offered an excellent reminder that the community of writers (past, present, and potential) is another vital form of solidarity for my work, and got the whole event off to a really inspiring start.
2) A Cultural Context: The Q&A/discussion after the talk was, as has been the case with just about every talk I’ve ever given, the best part, as each and every audience member had an interesting perspective to add into the mix. But I was especially struck by the perspective of a woman who at a young age moved to the mainland from Puerto Rico, and was able to offer an analysis of the exclusionary definition of America from the point of view of someone (and a family and community/culture behind her) who has become part of the nation in every meaningful sense, yet still felt and feels that sense of separation. I’ve written in this space about the song “America” from the musical West Side Story, and how much it captures that insider-outsider dynamics when it comes to the Puerto Rican American community. But this audience member offered a far more personal, intimate, and thoughtful perspective on those questions, and I’ll carry that perspective with me in all future discussions of the book.
3) A Present Problem: As I imagine will be the case at pretty much all my book talks, our conversation—before, during, and after the talk—was never too far removed from current events, and particularly from (to quote the title of my book’s Conclusion) “The Battle in the Age of Trump.” There’s a valuable therapeutic quality to such conversation to be sure, a sense of solidarity that is part of why I love giving talks and engaging audiences of all types; but I find that such collective connections of historical/scholarly topics to current events can also genuinely model practical ways to engage our present problems. I felt both those effects at many moments during this talk, but never more so than in my one-on-one conversations with John Willis, a retired professor and Peterborough resident who came to the talk wearing a “Make Racism Wrong Again” hat and a “Black Lives Matter” pin, and whose thoughtful historical and contemporary ideas more than bore out those adornments. As this series has consistently illustrated, my talks are always as much about the perspectives I hear as those I share, and John, like all the folks at the Toadstool, exemplified that inspiring balance.
Upcoming book talks tomorrow,
PS. Ideas or suggestions for future talks, in-person or online? I’d love to hear them!