Jewish World Review August 31, 2011 / 1 Elul, 5771
An exceptional book club
By Sharon Randall
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Sometimes when you least expect it, life opens a door you never dreamed you'd enter. It's enough to make you want to wake up each morning just to see what will happen next.
Anything is possible as long as you keep waking up.
Some months ago, a reader of my column (a man I've not met but hope to do so) sent me a story from The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer by columnist Kay McSpadden, about an unusual book club that meets each week at the main branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
Book clubs are not often called "unusual." But Turning Pages is exceptional for two reasons: First, most of its members are homeless. Some are housed. Others are in "transition."
Second, and just as rare, is a very pregnant woman in a purple dress and high heels -- a self-described community volunteer who read two years ago about a similar program in Boston, and saw no reason why it couldn't happen in Charlotte.
Candace Curlin Vance is the kind of friend you want on your side in a fight -- fearless and tireless. And, as the folks at Turning Pages have learned, you can count on her to have your back.
Also, she talks faster than most normal people can think, which is handy for getting publishers to donate books.
The same reader who sent me that story suggested to Candace that Turning Pages ought to read "Birdbaths and Paper Cranes," a collection of columns I published 10 years ago that includes stories set in my home state of North Carolina.
Candace wrote at once to ask how she might obtain 25 copies.
I replied that the book is out of print and, unfortunately, I didn't have 25 copies. She thanked me anyhow, and that was that.
The next day I found two big boxes of books I didn't know I had. When I told Candace, she laughed. As a woman of faith and persistence, she has often seen "no" turn into "yes."
And that's how I ended up flying to Charlotte last week to meet the members of Turning Pages, who had just finished reading, of all things, my book.
We sat around a big table -- different races, genders, backgrounds and walks of life -- talking, laughing, eating biscuits from Bojangles', drinking sweet iced tea. It was very Southern. I never felt more at home.
They asked excellent questions, offered insightful observations and convinced me they'd actually read the book.
One woman, now housed after years of living on the streets, presented me with a gift, a blue-and-white-spattered painting.
"It's called 'Falling Water,' " she said, smiling. "I signed my name on the back so it will be worth something someday."
Little did she know how much it was already worth to me.
Afterward, when we'd eaten all the biscuits, shaken all the hands and gone our separate ways, I asked Candace about the future of Turning Pages.
"It's my baby," she said. "I really want to see it continue."
But with another "baby" on the way (her first child is due in October), she hopes someone will step up to fill her high heels.
So do I.
Reading is the great equalizer. A book never asks who we are or what we do or where we sleep at night. It asks only that we read and try to understand.
When we come together with open hearts and open minds to discuss what we've read, we discover that we are more alike than we are different.
We create community, a sense of belonging, a sense of home.
We turn the hopeless "no" into the "yes" of possibility.
Anything is possible, as long as we keep reading. Just ask the readers of Turning Pages.
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