Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kansas obliges me with a tornado!

So I'm sitting there in the cafe of the lovely Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, talking on my cell phone to Jim in between sessions of giving my talk to highschool students, when suddenly a really loud siren starts to go off. Jim says, "What's that? Is that an ambulance? Where are you?" Then a voice comes over the loudspeaker that tells us, "There is a weather emergency. Please proceed to the basement," and a security guard ambles by saying calmly, "Tornado warning. Everybody downstairs." And calmly, everybody in the enormous library strolls down the steps to the labyrinth of corridors that are the basement. Above, that is a picture of me with the lovely youth services librarian Gayle, waiting out the tornado.

Everyone was so placid about the whole thing that there was never a moment of being afraid. My first thought of course was, "I'm blogging about this." But poor Jim, when the descent to the basement cut off my cell signal, probably thought I'd been carried away like Dorothy. But no. I'm not sure if the tornado touched down at all; I didn't hear that it did any damage, and so I feel relatively safe in saying I was glad for the full Kansas experience! That said, I am not looking to begin a "forces of nature" collection on my travels. Regions of the US, do not feel obliged to treat me to earthquakes and hurricanes!

So, Kansas was fun! The librarians who arranged my trip, Gayle and Jean, were fabulous and made me feel right at home, and a local bookstore had managed to convince Penguin to ship them some books ahead of the rest of the world, and so I saw boxes of my book opened for the first time (eek!) and saw people buying them, and not just people, but teenagers! That was so cool. And the ones that didn't buy it for themselves were dibsing on the library copies. I really didn't expect kids to buy it; it was almost $20 with tax, and that's a lot, and I was prepared to have the stacks of my books fairly undiminished by the end of the day, but that didn't happen. YAY! It was really wonderful. But the book sales were really sort of incidental. It was my first chance to talk to teenagers, and I can't say I'm not at all afraid of them anymore -- they can be quite intimidating, I found, during the second talk of the day when we left the library to visit a local continuation school -- but they can be awfully cool, too. I talked to them about reading, about filling their minds with the world, and about forging their own unique squiggly line through life. And I talked about censorship and the illustrious history of book burning and book banning and even book mulching (brought to you by a Texan).

Check out this recent quote by a Texas mother of teenagers at a book-mulching rally: "Children should not learn about puberty until after they are married."

{Eeeeeeek!!!!!!!}

I peppered my talk with references to things like Chinese emperors burying scholars alive, and how the building of the Great Wall of China claimed an estimated 300 workers' lives per mile of wall (a million in all), and to the British trade in tattooed human heads from New Zealand in the early 1800s, and to the time I tried a sip of rice wine in which 9 species of dead snakes had been pickled, and about the War Department's "Monuments Men" who went around Europe after WWII ended, recovering stashes of art and manuscripts that had been looted by the Third Reich for a planned Fuhrer Museum. Just imagine that we were very close to living in a world in which the Mona Lisa would have hung in Hitler's museum instead of the Louvre. For me, it's little specific details like that that begin to make it possible to imagine alternate realities.

To my sessions at the library, the students who came were "volunteers," that is, readers who wanted to come, and the first moment I glimpsed them sitting in the auditorium when I walked in, they all had books open in their hands, whatever they happened to be reading that day -- I glimpsed New Moon among them -- and I loved seeing that. The continuation school we went to was different, and I'm really glad we went. They sat in the library and mostly didn't talk while I was talking, but there was a broad range of surly and challenging stares whenever I looked around, and many who had their chins on their chests and didn't look up at all, and when I asked for show of hands for various things, there was very little participation, but there were a few bright eyes out there, a few listeners, and though many of the kids showed zero interest in reading and even less than zero in winning a raffled copy of my book, the boy who did win it was really cool. He was a tall, maybe six-foot, really good looking African American kid, and he came right up to get me to sign it for him, and the first thing he said to me was, "That's a cool purse" !! It turned out he really likes to draw, and that his little sister loves to read, and I was really, really glad he won the copy of my book. On the way out of the school, I saw a teeny tiny fragile-but-tough-looking little girl holding just about the tiniest baby I've ever seen. Sigh.

At the end of the day I kept thinking how I should volunteer in some capacity at a school at home, do something on a regular basis that brings me in contact with kids and teens. Any recommendations of what? The library in Topeka is a really big, really nice library with lots of space and nooks and cool chairs and lots of computers and teenagers seem to hang out there -- not necessarily to read -- and I was very impressed by the programs the librarians put together to give them something to do, like manga drawing night, and game playing, and stuff like that, hoping that they'll pick up books along the way.

So, that was my first time traveling across country to do a book talk, a glimpse into a part of the country I've never seen, my first tornado warning, my first sight of whole boxes of my books (and by the way, Hastings Bookstore in Topeka is the only bookstore in the whole world that currently has my book!). It was a great experience. I look forward to more!

18 comments:

maggie said...

see kids aren't quite as scary as we think! I too learned that even the crazy ones are often pretty cool if you have something cool to say to them (or have a big dog to play with). if you want kids to talk to i'll give you laurie's number, her 8th graders are pretty sweet!

Amber said...

How fun! Very exciting, all of it.

I did however spit coffe when I read that Texas mom stuff...Um. Okay. Do you think she knows what it is?? LOL! Jeez.

You should look into "treatment" programs in your area, for kids. My cousin went to a private rehab/school up in your neck of the woods. You would be shocked how many of these types of places there are all over the place. I bet the kids would love to have something to hear/talk about other than getting clean and not being depressed.(I would have LOVED to listen to someone like you, when I was young and depressed!) Also, I bet reading and writing is an outlet for many of them, and you might help some kids realize a talent and a new way of escape, you know? You can find them on the net, look for treatment and "bording" schools. ;)

:)

liz elayne said...

so glad you are safe! and that you had a good time...
how fun that there is only one bookstore in all the world carrying your book right in this moment. love it!

Anonymous said...

hi laini~

i have been reading your blog for a while now and i am thinking of moving to portland and i just wanted your opinion on how life is like there.
do you love it? does it really rain all the time? do you think it's a good place to raise kids?
i read all the demographic stuff but there is nothing like finding things out from someone who lives there!

thank you so much!
love your art, so beautiful and creative:)

michele
satori17@yahoo.com

ceanandjen said...

Hurrah, what a fabulous experience. Congratulations on your book, and I hope that you have many more positive experiences as it makes it's away into MANY bookstores.

:-)

Kim G. said...

Well OF COURSE there would sirens and howling winds while you were talking about your new book with those lucky little stinkers! (Can you tell I'm a bit jealous that THEY got a chance to buy your new book and your hometown fans have to wait for the big day? ** sigh **) It was all just to make sure they were paying attention! :) Glad the time went well and you are safe from surly teens and whirling winds!

tinker said...

Wowza, what a trip - I'm glad you didn't end up in Oz, having to click your polka dot shoes to get back home!

Have you thought about tutoring or volunteering to a school literacy program? Some of those kids haven't really learned how to read still, because no one's taken the time to get them excited about reading yet - and if anyone could them excited about reading, I think it might be you. Create your readership, one reader at a time, lol...
Violette mentioned your Laini's Ladies on her blog just yesterday, and I found myself jumping on the messageboard there to plug your book, because you've got me so excited about reading it (someday soon!). In fact I'm wondering how long it would take me to drive to Topeka...
:)

Alexandra S said...

You just have to cause trouble whereever you go, don't you??? You aren't going to be asked to future talks if you get associated with typhoons, monsoons, and tornadoes. I would've thought you would have learned that lesson after the weather fiasco you concocted in your polka dot baseball cap on your way to me in Bulgaria. That country never wants to see you again, and now, look what you have done. I know exactly what happened. That tornado was no coincidence. Cool it or you're in for a knuckle sandwich boogershack style.

Alexandra S said...

I forgot the most important part of my comment! You are very, very lucky that you weren't caught red-handed whipping up that tornado because it turns out that Kansas is now enforcing a law that prison inmates can only use four rolls of toilet paper per month. Here's the link:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,269335,00.html
You are a very lucky young lady Missy!

Mardougrrl said...

Of COURSE you bring exciting weather patterns...you are you!

I am loving your book tour information. I cannot wait to read it, finally!

Jone said...

Laini, I am so happy that your trip went well for you. A tornado scare, huh, wow. Volunteering at a school would be a awesome thing to do. Are you counting down the days for the official release?

cheeky said...

This is all exciting stuff. Congratulations on your book.
You have a lot to offer to the young people out there searching, and I think volunteering is THE BEST gift ever. Obviously, these young people touched you. It's all about planting seeds.
I love how the blogging community is so intertwined. I have participated at SS and knew of you, obviously. Then I did a journal swap over at CaC and I was connected with Jone. I saw that Jone had the pleasure of having you visit her library at school. This is all really lovely stuff.
Again, all the best.

davesap said...

Until I read your blog, I was hoping that your world tour would take you to Michigan to speak about Blackbringer. Maybe that's not such a good idea.

Sarah Beth Durst said...

So cool! And especially cool that there's now a bookstore with your books for sale! Yay!

Frida said...

Oh - you would be a great literacy tutor. Your love for books is contagious. I think it takes so much courage for a teenager or young adult to admit they still can't read or to ask for/accept help. My mum taught literacy to adults when I was teenager and I remember boys who had finished high school coming to the house, cool, tough, football star boys. I thought they were so brave for taking the lessons. Anyway - given all the barriers that have to be overcome by these youth, I am sure that your passionate enthusiasm for the rewards of reading would be invaluable.

I am so looking forward to reading Blackbringer, but I can't seem to order books online to be delivered to Afghanistan (Amazon doesn't seem to cover us) so I will have to wait til Sept when either the Commander or I will be in Portland inshallah.

Marilyn said...

What a trip!! As someone who works around teenagers every day...even if you connected with just ONE child at the continuation school...it will ripple out...

GeL (Emerald Eyes) said...

Congrats, Laini! I'm beaming with happiness for you. You surmounted many firsts. Delightful post. Many more successes to you!

Anonymous said...

Ms. Taylor...I'm so glad your book has been so well received! Congratulations!

I would like to comment on your question about how to volunteer in some capacity with kids. Might I suggest Girl Scouts? You could pair with another adult and be a co-leader. That way, you won't need to create all the activities yourself. It can be really fun. I used to do it when I was in my 20's. It was immensely rewarding and I felt that I was giving the girls a look at some other possibilities. I was an engineer working full time in an office and most of the other girl scout leaders were at least 10 years older and somebody's mom.

Warm Regards,
Stella