Last week I had a long drive ahead of me so I went to my local library and scoured the shelves for audiobooks. I’m a huge fan of the medium and I’ve listened to all of David Sedaris’s books and all of Jennifer Lancaster’s books (except the last one, of which I read my SIGNED copy, thankyouverymuch) and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and The Second Journey by Joan Anderson (which is the sequel/follow-up to A Walk on the Beach). I own all these audiobooks and am a proponent of paying for works of literature. But — in an effort to save money — and because I did not want to listen to a book via my iPhone for four hours, I wanted actual old-fashioned CDs and not an MP3 file.
I chose A Cup of Friendship by Deborah Rodriguez. Why? Because I liked the cover (it is also how I choose wine, and I’ve got a helluva track record) and then I read the blurb (also helpful in choosing wine) and it sounded like solid women’s fiction. Not until I finished the book did I visit the author’s website, where she lists this quote:
“Rodriguez paints a vivid picture of Afghan culture… as if Maeve Binchy had written The Kite Runner.” – Kirkus
I agree. Times ten.
To me, A Cup of Friendship sounds like fiction that might not appeal to men — so I think the title is misleading. Rodriguez writes from both male and female POV throughout the book and relays the nuances of male Americans and male Afghans and female Americans and female Afghans with a deft hand and an understanding heart. By that I mean she portrays these characters without judgement — allowing the reader (or listener) to come to his or her own conclusion as to good, bad, right, wrong. As a consumer of the book I was entrenched in a foreign culture and ideas — but equally captivated the complex relationships that defied cultural boundaries. In the end it’s a story about love and friendship, family and work, tradition and change, forgiveness and acceptance. As a writer listening to these words I was amazed at the vivid descriptions and took copious mental notes about how and why they worked — as well as how all the points of view were balanced throughout each chapter. It was an intricately woven tale – to say the least. I think this is an everyone book. Is it women’s fiction? Yes, because of how we’ve defined it in the past. But it’s just another example of the elasticity and all-encompassing nature of this genre we love to read — and to write.
So, for about 2.5 hours of a 3.75 hour drive each way, I listened to A Cup of Friendship. (I turn it off in crazy traffic or to hear my GPS gal give directions.) That means when I returned home that second day — there were 4.5 hours left of the audio book. No problem. I listened for a bit and then tended to my house and my daughter and my dogs. But the next day when my daughter went to school? Confession! I plunked myself on the couch, popped the CD into the laptop and listened. And laughed. And cried. Until it was over. 4.5 hours later. (I was too tired to write, I told myself.)
For me, the biggest compliment I give an author is that I wish I could meet his or her characters — or at least observe them in person — find out even more — that they seem so real — they’re so likable — that I would love to have a cup of coffee with them (awesome – much of this book takes place in a coffee house in Kabul) and that’s how I felt when I finished listening to the book. I won’t lie — I do not want to go to a war-torn country and risk my life. I’m risk-averse if given the choice. But I admire the women in this story who did choose to be in Kabul. I could be friends with them. (Yes, I know they’re not real people, work with me here.)
And it made me think — what would I want someone to say about my book?
And I do mean — someone. A stranger. Someone not vested in me at all. What would I want him or her to come away with? I know that’s not something an author can dictate — that every reader takes away something based on personal experience. But if I could — I guess I’d say that if readers wanted to meet my characters — not to pummel them or call them names — but to ask them questions or just hang out , be friends — that would be awesome. I’d also like if, perhaps, someone learned something they didn’t know. There is a smattering of Jewish traditon in The Glass Wives and if someone comes away knowing something they didn’t know before — I’d like that. I’d also like the consensus to be that it was well-written. Not just a good story (as if that’s a “just”) but fine-tuned — with memorable moments. That deft hand I mentioned above? Yeah, that too.
I guess that would be my wish list.
What’s yours? Share one or two or three things you’d LOVE someone to say about your women’s fiction. And — what’s the biggest compliment you can give a book?
Note: I did email Deborah Rodriguez (that does not surprise you, does it?) and invited her to join us at WFW. (Her first book was a memoir, this one is fiction – I double-checked!) I hope she replies and says yes! I’ll keep you posted!