Broadway Books is my friendly, neighborhood, independent bookstore. That means a lot to a work-at-home writer who relies on reading and walking to exercise both brain and body. On Sunday, I weathered the cold to buy Anne Lamott’s Stitches for a friend recovering after surgery and a copy of Jesmyn Ward’s Sing Unburied Sing for myself. When I opened the door to the light and warmth of the store, my glasses fogged up. As I waited for them to defrost, I remembered the best book I ever bought here -- J.R. Moehringer’s memoir, The Tender Bar. It’s a good book, but I remember it so fondly because my husband, who only read non-fiction (“Why would anyone want to read something that isn’t true?” the newspaper man in him often asked) loved that particular book. It was probably the best Father’s Day gift I ever gave him. Many of my memories of Broadway Books, which settled in Northeast Portland about the time I did 25 years ago, stack up with memories of the friends and relatives I’ve given books that I bought there.
And now this carefully curated store with wooden shelves and tables heaped with good, if not excellent, books is giving me a gift. They have invited Portland poet Joe Soldati and me to share a reading there, and I am inviting you to join us. Joe has published several collections of poetry; his latest is Sacrifices: Retold and Untold Stories from the Bible [Poems]. These are not the Sunday School characters you may remember. Joe imagines a letter from Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, who has no idea his wife has been carrying on with King David. Joe reads the minds of soldiers gambling for Jesus’ cloak at the crucifixion. These poems make me shudder, smile, reflect. I think you’d like them.
My book, Sacred Strangers: What the Bible’s Outsiders Can Teach Christians, has filled my time since I left the paper. I was inspired by my time as a reporter, when I’d reach out to total strangers and talk to them about their most closely held religious beliefs -- which often were very different from my own. This experience reminded me of Bible stories, in which the foreigners or outsiders behave better than the believers they’ve encountered. So I researched and wrote about six of these stories and raise some questions about them, all in an effort to spark the conversations we need to have now, when our fear of strangers threatens so many of our religious and civic values. I believe Scripture can help with these conversations because, whether or not you know or revere the Bible, it has probably influenced your life. As a culture, we invoke the story of the Good Samaritan and we think we know what it means. But do we know the story of Hagar and the light it sheds on racism, refugees and hope? Or the story of Naaman, an enemy general who overcame his own ego, his most dangerous foe?
Though I tried to write with humor, my share of this reading may not be as entertaining as Joe’s. I get it. But I’m not asking you to come and buy my book. Feel free to buy Joe’s, or find something else on the shelves that may be calling to you. Or don’t buy anything, just come and join the conversation. It will be thought-provoking and fun. And I guarantee you’ll leave feeling better, as I always do when I leave Broadway Books.
If you can come, the reading is Tuesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. at Broadway Books, 1714 NE Broadway, Portland, OR 97232.