Author Jane Smiley engages readers during ReadMOre Tour

Thursday, April 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — With stacks of books in tow, about 70 people crowded into the Friends Room inside of the Columbia Public Library to talk about an author who brought them all together.

Jane Smiley, whose book “A Thousand Acres” was chosen for the statewide ReadMOre community reading project, engaged the readers with jokes as she led a discussion Wednesday evening about her books and other passions.

She opened the evening by reading a passage from “A Thousand Acres,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Smiley, who has written 11 novels and several pieces of nonfiction, said she enjoyed bringing back “A Thousand Acres” to a new audience.

“I remember the spirits of writing it,” Smiley said. But, she said it was refreshing to read the book again because it’s a different experience for her than it was when she wrote it.

“A Thousand Acres” is about an Iowa farmer who decides to divide up his farm among his three daughters, and then he suddenly decides to cut one of the daughters out of the will. The novel is closely tied with William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

“I viewed 'A Thousand Acres' as my production of 'King Lear,'” Smiley said.

Although the discussion of “A Thousand Acres” was particularly short, the audience engaged with Smiley as if they were old friends. Many audience members asked questions about her love for horses as well as her parenting style. While other members of the audience wanted insight into the mind of a novelist and asked about her writing techniques.  

Ralph Rowlett, who is in the process of writing a historical book about Norsemen and Vikings, left the event once but then returned to praise the author. He said he was curious to see her in person because her novel “The Greenlanders” featured Norsemen and he had studied Greenland for many years.

Others felt similar connections to Smiley vicariously through her work.

Linda Askren brought a worn copy of “A Thousand Acres”  to get signed. She said she identified with the book because she comes from a family of three daughters, just like the three sisters in “A Thousand Acres.”

“I’ve read 'A Thousand Acres' a thousand times,” Askren said.

As the night came to a close and the book-signing line dwindled, audience members left with smiles. .

Although Smiley said she would have picked her book “The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton,” which is set in Missouri and Kansas for the ReadMOre program, she was still pleased in the interest for “A Thousand Acres.”

Smiley’s next book, titled "The Georges and The Jewels," will be available in September. The book is directed toward younger readers and includes one of Smiley’s dearest passions — horses.

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