What’s nicer than sharing stories?

Published 11:41 am Sunday, April 30, 2017

“If this isn’t nice, what is?”

This thought came to my mind at The Old Mill Restaurant on April 20 during the Austin Page Turners’ lunch with “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse” author Faith Sullivan and her husband, Dan, as a chat about books and authors weaved into other topics. That same thought returned at our Page Turners dinner with Faith and when she spoke to about 100 people at Austin Public Library that night. And I thought the same thing when discussing “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” with my young nieces.

Yes, like the literary nerd that I am, I couldn’t help but marvel at the rich discussions and experiences sparked by these books — and by the excitement and emotion the books evoked.

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I enjoyed the unique experience of reading “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” around the same time, and then I got to enjoy discussions of the two books within decidedly different readerships; however, both left me mulling over the power of good books.

The first experience came in a few discussions about Harry Potter with my 5- and 7-year-old nieces. Before I read the book, Kenzie, 5, erupted once in a wave of descriptions of Harry’s absurdly poor living conditions at the start of the book:

“Did you know Harry lives in a cupboard under the stairs?”

“Do you know his family doesn’t like him?”

So I decided to be the cool uncle by reading the book to share it with them.

When I was about halfway through the book, the girls asked who my favorite character was, and I teased them by saying, “Snape … or Dudley.” If you’ve read any of the series (I’m on book three), you’ll get the joke. Emmy, 5, gave me a blank stare, which twisted into a smile with the suspicion I was kidding.

Flash forward to the Page Turners in Austin. A woman in the crowd thanked Faith for giving “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse” heroine Nell Stillman love. Many other people attending Sullivan’s talk, the culmination of this year’s citywide read, nodded in agreement, “Yes, Nell Stillman deserved love.”

At Faith’s talk at Austin Public Library, it was easy to see that Sullivan and her readers shared a deep affection for the characters in “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse,” especially Stillman. The life of this third-grade teacher who endures terrible hardships and persists with the help of author P.G. Wodehouse struck a chord with the many people who turned out to the library.

Stillman’s story is moving, and the character lives with a grace that sticks with a reader, especially in small-town Minnesota.

On the flip side is Harry Potter, the exciting wizard famous for defeating Voldemort as a baby with his story full of adventure at pretty much every turn.

Faith says the idea for “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse” stemmed from a writing group talk on author’s you turn to in challenging times. Eventually, Faith thought of P.G. Wodehouse. For me, my most recent example of this was Kurt Vonnegut and while enjoying the Page Turners and my nieces, I thought of a quote he shared from his uncle, who on nice, pleasant days would say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

And that’s what I thought throughout April 20 during the Page Turners talk and as I chatted with my nieces. I thought of Stillman in her book, reading P.G. Wodehouse after each hardship. The books didn’t solve her problems, but they helped her bear the weight.

Likewise, I left Faith’s talk thinking that while the experience of reading and sharing books won’t solve the ills of Austin or Minnesota, it will hopefully make us a little more open and empathetic through this process of reading and sharing with one another.

I was left thinking about what Faith told the crowd:

“And readers are so dear; the extraordinariness of the whole idea of books and reading,” Faith said during her April 20 talk. “A book is only half there until it is read. And no one person gets the same thing out of the same book. It’s astounding! Everyone’s view is different.”