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September 23, 2008

When a Book Tugs at You...

Posted by carol
Reading is a personal and private pursuit and most of the time, it's okay to just mull thoughts on my own once I hit the last page. But there are other books that tug at me so hard that I feel a need to talk about them immediately and want to have an instant discussion about them as soon as I close them. I had this happen to me about a week ago.

On a very rainy Friday night, I went to a bookstore event at the Clinton Bookshop in Clinton, New Jersey, to see Robin Gaby Fisher talking about her book, After the Fire. It's a story of the friendship that grew between two of the survivors of the Seton Hall fire. Both boys, now men, were there. For those of you not aware of this story, a fire broke out in the freshman dorm, Boland Hall, at Seton Hall University in the wee hours of a January morning in 2000. When it was over, three students were dead, 58 were injured; three of them critically burned. The fire had started when students lit a paper sign in the common area lounge on the third floor. It quickly spread out of control.

After the Fire tells the story of two of the most critically hurt victims, what they experienced during the fire, and its aftermath, and how they still are there to support and encourage one another more than eight years later. It's an emotional read. A thoughtful read. A book that I have told just about anyone who will listen about in the last week or so.

Most of us at the event that night did not know each other, but something happened in that room that brought us all together not just physically, but emotionally. Since I think all of us knew the circumstances of the fire we were talking about the book as if we had read it, asking the author questions and probing the survivors for their impressions and feelings. I later thought that it was like we were having the book club discussion BEFORE we read the book. And what we were learning was going to enhance our reading experience.

After the formal reading, a number of people stayed to chat. And share stories. And marvel at these two men who have forgiven, moved on and built their lives.

I read the entire book the morning after the event. Then I started writing people about it. I wrote an entire blog here last week.

Would I have said going in that this was a book club discussion book? Probably not. But is it? Read it and let me know. I think I know your answer. And I am just an email away if you want to share your thoughts.

---Carol Fitzgerald