Together, the two run a website called She Reads, encouraging women, especially moms, to pick up a book and start reading.
"We believe that, since moms are the heartbeat of families, encouraging a mom to read promotes literacy for whole families," Whalen tells me.
I feature local moms in this space every Monday, but sometimes go further afield. Today, Lawhon and Whalen are our featured moms. Whalen, who lives in Charlotte, is a North Carolina native and N.C. State graduate. Lawhon lives in Nashville. The two are moms of a combined total of 10 kids (and probably also feel that they've birthed the books that they've each written on their own).
They'll be in Raleigh next month for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance trade show, which will be at the North Raleigh Hilton. It's Sept. 19 and Sept. 20. As part of the event, the two have partnered with the alliance to put together Triangle Reads from noon to 5 p.m., Sept. 20. The ticketed event, which is open to the public, features panel discussions and book signings from a variety of authors.
I checked in with Whalen to learn more about She Reads and the event next month. Here's our email conversation:
Go Ask Mom: Tell us a bit about why you started She Reads and what it entails?
Marybeth Whalen: We started She Reads because we noticed that within our individual spheres of influence we were regularly called upon to recommend novels to friends and neighbors. We decided to unite our efforts by creating this same "service" (so to speak) on a broader scale via the internet. And since we began seven years ago, that's what we've been doing -- culling through the latest women's fiction titles and finding those gems we just have to share. We've grown and changed through the years, but that desire to put books in the hands of women and say "Read this. Seriously. Read it." is still at the heart of every book we select and every post we share.
GAM: Why is it so important for women - especially moms - to be regular readers?
MW: We believe two things: Story is the shortest distance to the human heart. And, if you can reach a mom, you've reached a family. So we share those stories that will impact women: Make them laugh, make them think, make them cry, make them question -- to have their hearts changed, broken, moved, stirred by a story. It follows that their spouses and kids will then also desire to read because they've witnessed the positive impact story has made in their wife/mom's life. In this way, literacy is increased within homes and as the home goes, so goes the nation.
The best illustration of this I can think of is a woman I know found a paper in her child's schoolwork that was basically gaging her child's reading level. One of the questions was "What kind of books does your mom like to read?" Her child's answer was, "People Magazine." At that moment, she realized she could hardly expect her children to read if she wasn't modeling that for them. She began asking friends for recommendations of books and, at midlife, became a passionate reader who now reads all the time. She found what we know -- story is powerful and transformative and, also, just plain fun.
GAM: What tips do you have for busy moms who would love to read more, but can't seem to find the time?
MW: We make time for the things we value. If reading is a priority -- either because we truly love it or sincerely want to love it -- then we will get up 15 minutes earlier to read a chapter, or forego TV in order to read, or use our free time or naptime to read. One thing I do is tell my kids to all grab a book and come get in my bed and read. The rule is that to stay on the bed and be part of our reading time, you must be quiet and actually read (or look at pictures for those who aren't reading alone). The ones who are a disruption have to go to their room and miss out on being part of what we're doing. That's modeling reading as a fun and exciting way to spend time while also getting your kids to read. (Sneaky!)
Another tip is to not be afraid to quit on a book that isn't doing it for you. Go to the library and check out a whole pile -- read the first 20 pages of all of them and then go back to that one you can't stop thinking about. Then read other books by that author or use the internet to find books in a similar style or time period or theme as that book. For instance, if you like southern fiction then you're probably going to like books by Patti Callahan Henry, Kim Boykin, Karen White, Mary Alice Monroe, etc. Sites like She Reads, Goodreads, and Modern Mrs. Darcy all have a variety of ways to find more books you will love.
Finally, if you're not into reading print, don't discount audio books. Thanks to Audible, I have a book always downloaded on my phone and listen to it as I walk each day. You can get a lot of "reading" done that way. Along those same lines, for kids who don't like to read, I check out books on CD for one of my kids. I put a CD player in her room and she listens as she plays.
GAM: What is your very favorite book?
MW: Oh gosh, can I tell you my top ten instead?? How about a list of my very favorite authors?? To narrow it down to just one feels impossible! I will go with the first book that popped into my head -- The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. I read it at the age of 17 and am actually listening to it again this summer. The combination of beautiful writing and powerful story is hard to top. It is probably the book that affected me the most and has stuck with me for the longest amount of time.
GAM: How do you hope She Reads will grow over time? What are your hopes for it for the future?
MW: We have scaled back on the desire to grow sheerly in terms of numbers and really desire to grow in terms of relationship and connection-- cultivating the community we already have and allowing for growth to come out of that. That is part of the reason we are excited about our first live event coming up this fall in Raleigh in conjunction with the Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show. Usually you have to be a publishing industry professional to have access to all the new books and amazing authors there, but for the first time ever they will be adding an opportunity for readers to come. We are honored to be hosting the event and hope that you will mark your calendars for Sunday, Sept. 20. Tickets are sure to go fast!!
Go Ask Mom features moms every Monday.