Dear Thursday: GETTING TO HAPPY by Terry McMillan [Book 35 of 2010] Oct28

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Dear Thursday: GETTING TO HAPPY by Terry McMillan [Book 35 of 2010]

So I finished reading this book while on my Fall tour back in October, but I wanted to save my thoughts until the week of the Circle of Sisters Book Club, because I know we’re all excited about meeting up THIS SATURDAY in NYC for a special reading and talk with Attica Locke, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Terry McMillan and me. Right? Right? Get more info on the event HERE. And get my thoughts on GETTING TO HAPPY by Terry McMillan below.

Why I Decided to Read It: Well, I read HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK while traveling by train and bus from Beijing to Datong, China, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Also, she was the first author I ever saw use “like” in a novel — a practice I will defend to the death. AND it’s the sequel to my favorite 4-friend novel of all time WAITING TO EXHALE.

What Makes It Different: And oh, did I mention that she didn’t decide to visit them just a few years later like some authors would? No, she actually gave us a novel about fabulous 50-year-olds. Yes! Also, funnily enough, I met up with Maggie Linton, the host of the”This is Audible” radio broadcast while I was in Washington D.C. I mentioned that I was reading GETTING TO HAPPY and she was like, “Have you heard the audio book?” Then when I said I hadn’t, she said, “Oh no, no, no. You have to listen to the audiobook.” And she gave me a free copy. Now I was enjoying reading the book, but I ended up switching to the audio book based on Maggie’s recommendation, and it was sooooo GOOD. Four different voices, including Gloria Reuben (ER) as Bernadette, S. Epatha Merkerson (LAW & ORDER) as Gloria, and Terry McMillan herself playing Savannah FTW. I know I go on and on about how much I like audio books, but seriously, if you’re going to read this book, do yourself a favor and invest in the audiobook. It’s particularly vibrant and it’s like having the characters in the room with you. My favorite line: when Terry McMillan (as Savannah’s fed-up sister) says, “Savannah, we’re your goddamn family.” The women in my family don’t curse (me notwithstanding), but if they did, Ms. McMillan would be like channeling them with that reading.

What I Loved: Basically I grew up with women very much like these four, and I found this tale very inspiring. I have a tendency toward anxiousness — you know “What if…? What if…? What if…?” This novel basically tackles every what if that’s ever kept me up at night and shows that whatever life throws at you, it ain’t over til it’s over. I was already looking forward to turning 40 in a few years. Now I’m really, really looking forward to turning 50. Also, I loved the indie movie feel of the novel. It was written in a very slice-of-life sort of way. I have a feeling that quality will disappear in favor of heavy romcom structure for the movie version, but man, I wish it could be preserved.

What I Didn’t Like: Something very sad happens early in the book, and I was just sobbing over this on the plane ride back to LA (before I switched to the audiobook and therefore the privacy of my own/rental car). Really embarrassing. My seatmates were so uncomfortable.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Keep it Real: One of the things I try to do in my own novels is not have typically heroic heros. I’ve no interest in writing about glamorous women with glamorous jobs who just need to find the right glamorous husband. As I’ve said in many an interview, most women I know are awkward, and I see no reason to feature the stereotypically pretty girls who everybody likes in my novels. Ms. McMillan is a writer after my own heart. I love that just about every woman in this novel is worried about her weight, like all the time. That’s so real. And just one of the true-to-life details that makes this novel feel really authentic.

Less Cussing is More: Due to being a little too excited about getting out of St. Louis where cursing was considered an unladylike sin (at least in my family circle), I’ll admit that I used to cuss like a sailor before becoming a mother. And I still have to do several cuss-word-eliminating passes of everything I write to keep it PG-13. Therefore I was impressed that the few curse words Terry McMillan used got employed pretty effin fabulously.

Gay Yay!: As those who were here two years ago, when the Prop H8 mess was still in full swing, might remember, I’m a staunch gay rights advocate and I really do believe that it’s the major civil rights issue of our time. The black women in this book are very supportive of the gay characters in this book. It was so nice to see middle-aged black women depicted this way, since if the MSM is to be believed, there is no such thing as a black woman in her 50s that is supportive of her gay family and friends.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: Indie Movie Lovers, Women of a Certain Age, Daughters and Mothers, People Who Buy Bootleg Videos, Divorcees, and Black Women Who Have Been To France

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