I'm in a reading group that usually meets every three to four weeks at our house. A little more than a year ago, we read a book by Richard Powers, called
The Time of Our Singing, a brilliant novel about race relations in America, music and a lot more.
I had gotten turned on to Powers about 20 years ago with his first book, Three Farmers On Their Way to a Dance, solely because I had picked up the book from a display about local authors in one of our local bookstores. (It is not really fair to call Powers a "local" author because he has reached international acclaim, but he does live a few blocks from my brothers, at least part of the time.) In any event, one of our reading group members is a friend of Powers and invited him to attend our meeting when we discussed his book. He was very gracious; spending more than an hour with us, eating and drinking our usual reading group refreshments, popcorn and cider.
Powers has an intensity and a seriousness that is almost scary. He treated each question and comment as if it was coming from a renowned literary scholar instead of some local yokel, and gave careful replies with a consideration that honored us beyond what we deserved. One of the questions, naturally, was about what he was working on next and he mentioned a book that is set in the Platte River country of Nebraska and explores the limits of human intelligence. Well, the book is out now, and this week it was announced that The Echo Maker has won the National Book Award for fiction, one of the highest, if not the highest, prizes given in the United States for fiction (I don't know the arguments about whether the Pulitzer ranks higher or lower than the National Book Award.)
I am trying to get some other authors to make personal appearances for our reading group, and we have one scheduled for January 7th, about which I will tell more later. My pitch is that every author who has ever personally appeared for our group has won The National Book Award. I'm hoping that Patry Francis, who regularly checks by and has her first book coming out in March is reading this and lets some of our luck rub off on her.