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Our guest blogger is Ellen Urbani, author of "When I Was Elena." We are discussing her book at tonight's Reading Women book club.
The summer of 2015 marked nearly 25 years since I'd last gathered en masse with my Theta sisters. We'd been members of Delta Omicron at the University of Alabama in the late '80s, back when hair was bigger and pearls were de rigueur, before tornadoes wiped out the east side of campus, before New Orleans sank beneath hurricane waters, and before babies and husbands and careers monopolized our days. It would never again be like it had once been.
Until it was. Until it was ... better.
In the late summer of 2015, I embarked on a national book tour with my latest book, Landfall, a work of contemporary historical fiction set Alabama and Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I took my 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son with me on a trek that started at the eastern seaboard and wended its way toward Texas, hoping to introduce them to the South I always loved but have long-since left; the South I adore for its hospitality and graciousness and warmth of spirit. I wanted them to meet the ghost of the girl I had once been.
Instead, they met my family.
In state after state, in bookstore after bookstore, my sisters turned out to welcome me home. Not just my immediate sisters, mind you: meaning not just Delta Omicrons, though they turned out in droves, showing up with friends and family at every single stop on my 20-city national tour. (Heck: one fellow sister who couldn't make it sent her mother in her stead; another sent her husband and his work colleagues; yet another crossed three state lines to hug me in person.) But sisters I never knew I had showed up too, spurred by a handwritten note I'd sent to Theta alumnae groups in cities throughout the South - cities where I didn't know a soul and had nightmares about taking the stage before a roomful of empty chairs. Alumnae groups in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas - as well as parts of Alabama I'd never called home - turned out to fill those seats, cheer me on, and make sure that at not one single place in all of my travels did I ever feel either lonely or unsupported.
It was a gift of sisterhood unlike anything I had ever witnessed, and the truest demonstration of the motto "Theta for a lifetime" that one could conceive.
I have always thought that joining Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity was one of the smartest choices I made in college. You all have now convinced me that it is one of the smartest choices I have made in my life. Thank you, everyone. Your love makes my heart swell anew, a quarter-century later.
Mary Jane Beach added Pride and Prejudice because "women were rarely published and some wrote under a pseudonym. How brave Jane was much like our founders. Stepping out to publish such a fine example of what daily life was like for women with no rights to own property, little freedom to marry for love and how society was so rigid." Erica Ochs loved The Secret History because "it accurately captures the intense friendships and the need to fit in that characterizes the college experience of so many." Maggie Harris recommends Perseverance, and not just because any Theta would be attracted to the title! She gives this book to friends who need a little inspiration, guidance and support.
Are any of your personal favorites on this list? What titles would you recommend to members? Let us know in the comments area below.
Katharine Murphy, assistant director of chapter services:
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
- Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
Mindy Marshall, director of administration:
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
- My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
Mary Jane Beach, NPC delegate:
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
- The Firm by John Grisham
- John Adams by David McCullough
Noraleen Young, staff archivist:
- The Dollmaker by Hariette Arnow
- The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey
- Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Erica Ochs, college compliance committee chairman:
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
- Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by John Krakauer
- Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Cindy Thoennes, Theta Foundation manager of operations:
- Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Leah Logan, alumnae district director:
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Lauren Palmer, FHC property manager:
- Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
- Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
- My Antonia by Willa Cather
Maggie Harris, college district director:
- Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
- Perseverance by Margaret J. Wheatley
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Remember too to join our Reading Women online book club! Upcoming book selections are listed on the Reading Women web page. Several books in the list below have been featured as Reading Women book selections!
Well, you're in luck. Theta's online book club, Reading Women, has you covered! I'm sure you're thinking, "How is reading going to accomplish all of those resolutions?" Let me tell you how.
• Get more exercise: Reading gives your workout more staying power. A suck-you-in plot keeps you on your exercise machine a lot longer than without.
• Save money: Reading is a much more cost-effective splurge for entertainment than eating out or going to the movies.
• Be more positive: A novel can lift your spirits with a happy ending, and events throughout the story can bring up warm memories from your past.
• Learn something new: Everything you read fills your head with new bits of information, and you never know when it might come in handy. It can also benefit your writing and comprehension skills.
• Decrease stress: Reading helps bring down levels of unhealthy stress hormones, such as cortisol.
• Get connected with Theta: Reading Women allows you to connect with Thetas from all over the world on your computer!
Not convinced yet? Give it a try! Our next live, online discussion is at 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 14. Thetas from all over the world will join in to discuss Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, a young-adult historical novel about a friendship between two young British women during World War II.
Have any books you'd like to see on the Reading Women list? Share your ideas in the comments below. More information on Reading Women can be found on the Theta website.
For the month of November, we will be reading The Women Who Raised Me, by Victoria Rowell. The book is about how Victoria, the child of an unmarried Yankee blueblood mother and unknown black father, beat the odds. It is her story about how she rose out of the foster care system to attain the American Dream and about the women who inspired her along the way.
The book was chosen because it shows great examples of leading women and the impact they have on others. It also relates well to one of our philanthropies, Court Appointed Special Advocates, which helps children through the foster care system.
If you have not yet joined Reading Women online, please join us. Each week leading up to the November 13 live discussion, a question will be posted on the Reading Women site for you to answer! The live discussion taking place on November 13 starts at 8:30pm Eastern. To participate, just sign on to the Reading Women site and join the virtual discussion!
We look forward to this month's book and discussion. We hope you can participate as well!
But I love the idea of a Theta book club, and am honored to join you on September 12th to discuss my newest novel, The First Husband.
People often ask how I became a novelist—and my time as a Theta at The University of Pennsylvania was definitely an important part of that journey. I spent much of my time at college working on short stories and reading everything I could get my hands on. Following graduation, I started writing for a variety of magazines and newspapers—Glamour, Ladies Home Journal, Self, ESPN Magazine, The New York Times—and after publishing a couple of short stories, I started work on my first novel, London is The Best City in America.
Three novels later, I am happy to share with you The First Husband. In some ways, the novel turned out to be an old-fashioned love story. (As you'll see from the "Roman Holiday" reference in the novel, I am a sucker for these.) For me, The First Husband started with a question: "How do we avoid living our lives in reaction?" As I was contemplating this, I imagined a conversation between two old friends who were discussing how one of them married quickly after a traumatic breakup, perhaps, in part, to convince the world she was okay. I imagined one friend trying to convince the other to leave her reactive union by arguing: He's just your first husband. I wanted to take a look at the irony of that ideology and, in the process, have an opportunity to answer my question about how we become proactive in our own happiness.
Happy reading. And thank you for including me in Theta's book club.
Reading Women was created as a way to engage and connect collegians and alumnae all over the world. By being a part of this book club, you can participate in online discussions, be a part of a live chat, and connect yourself with Thetas from all over. What a great way to get your monthly book fix while having intellectual conversations with your Theta sisters!
I am even more excited to announce that our first book is The First Husband, written by Laura Dave. Laura is a Theta from the Beta Eta Chapter at the University of Pennsylvania. Each week during the month, we will be posting discussion questions that you can answer and get you to start thinking before our live discussions.
I hope that you all are looking forward to Reading Women as much as I am. If you are interested in learning more, please visit the Reading Women web page.