The Storyteller

The Storyteller is one of those books you read long past bedtime with a fist clenched around a much-used tissue. I finished it last weekend, wanting to make sure I was ready for the reading tonight.

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I’ve heard Jodi Picoult read before. She is captivating in person. She remembers all of her books so well, she’s not taken aback when a reader asks her about a book from 10 or 15 years ago. A lot of people always want to know about My Sister’s Keeper and how she feels about the movie adaptation. I haven’t seen it. I don’t want to.

Tonight’s reading was at Congregation Shaarie Torah. As usual, I went by myself. For some reason I don’t feel weird going to author readings but I won’t go to movies by myself. Weird?

The Storyteller is about forgiveness and people who have been badly wounded, both metaphorically and literally. Tonight Jodi asked,”Can you erase a stain on your soul? Can anything tip the balance?” I won’t spoil anything. Just go read it.

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A little background about the book: Jodi asked her mother to help her find a few survivors she could talk to for research. A half an hour later, she had emailed her nine names.

One of them was Bernie, from a small town in Poland with 5000 Jews at the beginning of the war. By the end there were 36. He remembers hiding in the basement with a mother and child and the mother would feed the child bread to keep it quiet. When that didn’t work, she held the baby so close that she accidentally smothered it. For three days, she waited on the curb for the next round up.

Gerda, another survivor, who at the end of the war was 63 pounds, had white hair and hadn’t bathed in three years, climbed over dead bodies to find a guard tower unarmed. The American who found her held a door open for her allowing her to pass through first. She said, “I’m a Jew you know.” He said, “I am, too.” They later married.

Jodi was inspired by their stories and so many more
* *
Jodi was also gracious to answer questions from the audience about her other books and writing process.

Q) Why use different fonts for different narrators?
A) She’s done this for a few years now because people are visual readers. Write in first person narrative because of controversial story lines. She doesn’t like to tell you how to feel as a reader.

Q) How do you feel about the movie adaptations of your books?
A) TV movies are pretty good adaptations. Not same experience with My Sister’s Keeper. She was thrown off movie set.

Q) You have a great sense of place when you write. What about setting a book in the Pacific Noethwest?
A) She loves writing about New England because it’s like a love letter to the place. Even if you live there for 40 years it’s a hard nut to crack.

Q) Which character does she most identify with?
A) Nina Cross from A Perfect Match because she does all the wrong things for the right reasons.

Q) What is she working on now?
A) The Elephant Graveyard

Q) Did she live with the Amish while researching Plain Truth?
A) Yes, she lived with Amish dairy farming family for a week. She told their 8 year old boy to wake her up for milking. The family knew she was writing a book about murder but were happy to help her research.

Q) Do you write at home?
A) She writes from home most of the time in the attic. When her children were small she would write even in 15 minute blocks. “Writers block is only something for people who have too much time on their hands,” she said.

Q) Who inspired her to start writing?
A) She wrote her first book at age but more than writing, she remember readings. It was a big deal to get a library card and have a reading lamp by her bed. Her parents were a great support but when she said, “I’m going to be a writer!” her mom replied, “That’s so great. Who’s going to support you?”

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