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A little Q&A with Diane Pickett.

We're welcoming Southern author Diane Pickett to The Bookshelf next Saturday, April 5, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., for a signing for her first novel, Never Isn’t Long Enough. This humorous Southern family saga follows a field of flawed and flamboyant characters as they race through pages of wit, drama, conflict, and tragedy. It’s a story of how a single mistake can turn the promise of youth into a lifelong quest for retribution and embodies an irreverent look at religion and the social culture of the South — which often masquerades as “Southern gentility.”A true Southerner who knows her way around the Derby, Diane answered a few questions for us in preparation of her signing next Saturday.

1. What's the last book you read?

Since I am spending the Spring in Asheville, I thought it appropriate to re-read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. His wife, Zelda, spent her remaining years hospitalized in Asheville due to her unstable mental condition.

2. E-book or "real" book?

I read the REAL book. I like to hold books in my hand and feel the pages turn as I follow the writer on a particular journey. Somehow, touching the pages make it more real and personal. We need personal touches in this impersonal society we have created of technology. The only things people seem to touch with feeling are their remotes or smart phones. They get very emotional if those toys are misplaced!

3. Two books that are on your nightstand.

I am looking forward to reading Everything Must Go by Elizabeth Flock. I love Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally and others) and am looking forward to finding out why she says "I Feel Bad About My Neck." That is probably because any female over the age of l8 begins to dread school teacher arms and turkey necks! Some of us can still see our necks and that is considered a blessing in many families.

4. Your book focuses a lot on Southern culture: religion, the importance of family, etc. What makes a Southerner?

As a Southerner, I value soft spoken words, family, manners, politeness, and consideration. Those elements are rapidly disappearing from our techno world of "it's all about me." I also value good fried chicken and tasty cornbread made in an iron skillet. Combine that with coconut cake, and you will have the preacher for dinner every Sunday. He might even let you out of the pew a little early!

5. What's the first section you gravitate toward in a bookstore?

I could spend hours just wandering around all the shelves. Some books are just like old friends - you are always glad to see them again. As a fiction writer I, of course, gravitate to that section just to see who else is in a pretend world. Life is all about reality, so it is good to have a break and day dream in some one else's fantasy.

6. Tell us about your involvement with the Florida Chautauqua Assembly.

The Florida Chautauqua has been an important element in my life for about 25 years. The movement originated in the mid l800s in upstate New York and began as a summer camp for training teachers. It grew enormously popular within a decade to become the premier artistic and educational movement of that period. It was the forerunner to what today we all Adult Community Education. It began as a summer Assembly and its popularity soon began to call for an expansion of the program to a warmer climate. A small town in NW Florida, DeFuniak Springs, was chosen. That program enjoyed the same success as the one in New York. However, after WWI and the following years of depression, the event collapsed until I revived it in the early l990's. It continues today as an annual event the last weekend in January. It continues to attract notables such as Karl Rove, Genna Bush Hager, Naomi Tutu and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

7. Why write?

I wrote Never Isn't Long Enough last summer as a first novel during my recovery from surgery for lung cancer. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years earlier. Naturally, these kind of diagnoses lead one on a different journey, and I have found writing to be a wonderful new adventure.


Join us next Saturday for Diane's book signing downstairs at The Bookshelf from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.


Must read: The Mysterious Benedict Society.


Some of my favorite books on earth are children's books, the books I read when I was still figuring out who I was and where I belonged. There's a special place in my heart for feisty Anne Shirley, for the beloved March sisters (but especially Jo, and really, never-ever for Amy), for Sharon Creech's Bloomability and J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts classics.

These are the books I love the most, but I'm not naive enough to think they're the books children today want to read. (Although, it's true: I've been known to force Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, on any girl age 11 or up.) Classics are classics for a reason, and yes: I firmly believe children today should be reading them. But I also really believe kids should read what they want to read -- anything to just get them into a book, right, to help them fall in love with reading?

So, I've made it my new mission to familiarize myself with the books in our middle readers' section. Not just the books I already love, but the books that are new to me. Not just Sharon Creech and Judy Blume and Louisa May Alcott, but authors I haven't explored before.

My first selection? The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. It's a series I often hear kids raving about, so I've never had trouble recommending it before. But the truth is, it's easier to sell a book I've really read, a book I love. So I decided to start with the quirky, intelligent, brave children Stewart features in his series for middle readers.

I was swept into the story immediately, captured by Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance, wishing I had Kate's boldness, but knowing all along: I am Reynie to a T. (Even the quiz in the back of the book said so.)

The story follows a group of 11-year-old children gifted with intelligence, honor, and bravery -- but never fear, these kids are still kids, and the author does a fine job reminding us of that fact. They face dangerous obstacles in their quest to save the world, but they still bicker and falter, and that makes these books so accessible for kids of all ages (and grown-ups too).

If you know me, you know I love Harry Potter and his gang of misfits; I believe in those books, but I also know they're not for everyone, and not every parent wants them on their child's to-read list. May I then suggest The Mysterious Benedict Society? I flew through the first novel, and I'm confident middle readers will too. And if you're a parent who enjoys reading out loud with their children? All the better. You'll love diving into these stories just as much as your kids will.

Book List
ISBN-13: 9780316003957
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 4/2008

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