My (preventable) struggles with the F word, and an ode to Hamnet
Posted on July 14, 2021
Anytime you give a book talk, you send along your bio so the host can introduce you to the audience. For a while, my bio had “lifelong Francophile” in it. That was fine for my first book, The General’s Niece. But for Overnight Code, that self-description would inevitably lead to questions from the introducer or audience about what a Francophile is. After a couple of talks, I decided that this was an unnecessary distraction from discussing how Raye Montague engineered her way out of the Jim Crow South to revolutionize the way the U.S. Navy designed and built its ships. So I rewrote my bio, striking the F word from it. I felt it was the right thing to do, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t think of it earlier.
But it is done now.
However, the trouble didn’t end there. When you brand yourself a lifelong Francophile, the phrase is memorable enough to stick in some people’s minds. This past Saturday, a Houston-based book group kindly invited me to discuss my first book The General’s Niece with them. One of the members of that club is French, and she recalled my Francophilia some four years after seeing me speak about Genevieve de Gaulle at Brazos Bookstore. She looked me up on the internet, and no longer saw Francophile in my bio. She wanted to know why. And I said it’s not that I’m not a Francophile. I am. It’s just that I’ve always liked writing about people from all walks of life, and I think that’s really the point when it comes to “things that make old Paige tick.”
This concludes my segment on words having weight. Choose them carefully, or at least better than I did in an iteration of my own damned bio.
I was going to go to trivia with my friend Michelle last night, but I was too transfixed with Maggie O’Farrell’s novel, Hamnet, to leave the house. (Fortunately for me, Michelle is bookish too, and therefore forgiving under the circumstances. There is always next week…) Have you read Hamnet yet? If not, you really, really, and I mean REALLY need to read it. It is the beautifully written story about Agnes, the wife of a certain budding bard who is trying to find success in London theater during the time of the Black Death. Tragedy, as you might figure, strikes, and when it does, you see its impact on Agnes’ marriage and the entire family as they come to terms with an unimaginable loss. The writing is gorgeous and captivating. The world-building is so, so good. And this focus on the incredible, mystical Agnes (as opposed to the man who is only referred to throughout the book as “the husband”) is such a fascinating way into the story, showing her as a central force in his story, which has long been more prominent. Hamnet is a creative, beautiful, poignant book that will take your breath away, and I hope you’ll head to your favorite local independent bookstore and grab a copy when you get the chance.
What are you reading right now? Please let me know in comments!