My heart is full because I read this book.

The beginning of the pandemic was a chaotic, extreme anxiety provoking, fearful time. On top of a deadly virus killing off human beings physically, there was the political rhetoric in the United States of America that was killing us emotionally. Once maniacal political drama subsided, we started getting hopeful about vaccines and then plunged right back into uncertainties about our turn, distribution, fairness, cutting in line, guilt. Now we are slowly opening up and again we are anxious about our ability to mingle with human kind while keeping everyone safe. Phew! That was an exhausting overview.

Amidst all this, I read a lot of books. Last night, I stayed up till midnight (despite it being a work week) to finish a children’s fiction called The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart. It filled me up with a warm fuzzy feeling as I read the last page, smiled at the fact that Gemeinhart was an elementary school teacher/librarian and thanked him for giving this reader solace during these times.

Twelve year old Coyote lives on a school bus driven by her dad Rodeo. They have been crisscrossing the country in that school bus for the last five years which they converted into their home. Five years ago, Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash when she was just seven years old. Since then, her dad left their home in Poplar Springs and drove around with her in their mobile home, the school bus named Yager. They stop at gas stations to fill up with gas, get food – most importantly slushies, and when Coyote can find a kind lady with a cell phone who lets her use it, she calls her grandma at Poplar Springs. Grandma always asks when she was coming home. But Coyote does not have an answer because Coyote and Rodeo do not plan to go home which, they fear, will bring back memories that will torment them for ever. During one such phone conversation, grandma tells Coyote that the park where she used to play with her sisters is being torn up by the city to turn it into a parking lot. But Coyote has a memory box buried underneath a tree in that park which she must rescue. The memory box was created by her mother and her sisters. They intended to go back for it after 10 years but 5 days after burying the memory box, her mom and sisters died in the car crash. Now Coyote needs to get her father to drive back home in exactly four days before the construction begins but she can not tell him that they are going back to Poplar Springs because going back is a hard ‘no go’ with Rodeo. So Coyote must plan to get her way without letting Rodeo know that they were actually heading home. Who knew the journey home is going to be the most difficult one? But Coyote is nothing but tenacious. She figures out a plan to make Rodeo drive in the direction of home. And during their journey back Coyote picks up some misfits who are also searching for their own destinations. There is Lester who needs to find his lady love, Salvador and her mama, Esperanza Vega is running away from a difficult situation, Val is looking for acceptance and of course Gladys needs to go to her mom. But 12 year old Coyote’s first friend, before others joined them, was a cool kitty named Ivan.

The writing is so full of heart, Coyote is such a fierce and spunky girl who carries her sorrow with such bravery and compassion, Rodeo may look like a bearded hippie but one has to look into his eyes and see the kindness that is brimming in him. Everything about this book touched my soul, the tragedy, Coyote and Rodeo’s grief, their overwhelming love for each other and humanity, the friendship, the good will. The author does not shield his young readers from the harshness/reality of life. Life is not easy, tragedies happen, violence happens, lack of acceptance happens but to balance the scale there is love, kindness, friendship, good will and most importantly resilience. The will to continue on this beautiful journey called life wins at the end.

We pivoted.

Last year was very different in terms of the service our library provided due to pandemic. Our branches closed in mid march and we pivoted to online classes within 3 weeks or so. And I had to facilitate my book club – online – via WebEx. I was terrified. New platform, new way of doing things, my very old, tired Chromebook, unknown technology….. recipe for disaster. I am a chicken and I was ready to throw in the towel. My boss said, ‘Just give it a shot. You can do it.’ My intrepid co facilitator said ‘Lets do this.’ My friend from work gave me confidence – “Think of what you will be doing for the community. They will be happy to see you providing their familiar platform in this uncertain time.” I timidly said, ‘okay.’ So I did it. I learnt how to navigate WebEx, sent out invitations to the participants. I pivoted. Many of my coworkers pivoted with confidence, I pivoted kicking and screaming.

On the evening of the book club, several of the participants joined. My old yet faithful Chromebook did not fail me. My co facilitator failed to show up though. I texted her in desperation, “They are all here. where are you?” She said, “I am trying, I can not get on!” I smiled on camera, while in my head a mantra played out, “This is gonna be a disaster! This is gonna be a disaster!” Lastly, I held my phone on speaker near my laptop with my friend on the phone, co facilitating with me. It was not perfect by any means but we were ‘together’ somehow. At the beginning of the session, I could not focus on what book club members were saying as I tried to hold the phone up, check my questions that I had painstakingly prepared, tried to make eye contact with pixelated figures on my screen. There were echoes when someone spoke, we fumbled on our end trying to figure out how to minimize the echo and finally muted ourselves. But before I knew it, I was enjoying myself. And basking in my ability to conduct a virtual book club while holding a speaker phone up so my co facilitator could participate. The participants seemed relieved to be able to talk about books – a constant, in such turbulent times. And they were thankful that we arranged this ‘meeting’. They were relieved that we planned to continue to meet each month. For some, that was their constant during those times. While everything was shut down, they could read a book and talk about a different world, different set of characters. They could escape from their pandemic ridden world with fellow bibliophiles.

That was back in April 2020. Now I love our virtual book club discussions. From a free WebEx account our library got licenses for wonderful Zoom accounts. The connections are great for the most part. I feel so much more comfortable with the technology. I can not believe I was so fearful of this new way of doing things – pivoting, a year ago. Since my book club meetings are in the evening, I throw on a pretty sweater over my pajamas, put on some earrings, light make up and voila! I am ready to roll…. I mean, have literary discussion.

While I do miss face to face discussions, I have noticed through our various virtual classes that participants with limited mobility can join us. Participants who do not have child care can join us. I have changed my mind about virtual classes – they are more inclusive in a way. There are folks who do not have the luxury of owning a computer, smart phone or tablet and eventually in person classes will start when it is safe, but I hope some of these virtual classes will continue to give equal access to all.

No man’s land in my reading journey

Do you know what I am talking about? It is that space when you are between books. You finished a book late at night. You perhaps cried a little at the turn of events, or laughed, or smirked at the predictable anticlimactic end of the story. No matter what your reaction was, you stayed up late to finish the book. You were invested. Now the book is done, you are sad or relieved depending on how much you loved the book but the possibilities ahead of you are endless. You lovingly look at your pile of books waiting to be cracked open on your bedside table, or you go to your bookshelves where you have library books on separate shelves and personal books on others. You peruse them lovingly, perhaps open a few to read the jackets. Which one or ones will it be? To add to the joy, it is your day off. The weather outside is frightful. There is a pandemic too. You really can not do anything, go anywhere. But you want to savor this excitement of making a choice. So instead of choosing a book right as you wake up, you cook an elaborate Indian meal for the family while listening to Hindi music of yester years. After cleaning the kitchen, you go back to the book shelf. Stroke some books lovingly. You are close to making a choice. Is it going to be Diane Setterfield, Isabel Wilkerson or Laila Lalami? No, not yet. You will extend this delicious feeling of happy possibilities and go clean the bathroom. It really needed cleaning. How about throwing in a load of laundry? It is only 2:25 in the afternoon. The rest of the afternoon and lazy winter evening stretch luxuriously ahead of you. It is a dark day so you will light up the house with Christmas lights. Plug in the lights of the Christmas tree. Now you will make your final decision. You will fold yourself up in your reading chair, and then you will lose yourself.