from the Post-Crescent APPLETON — Best-selling author Alice Hoffman observed that she often writes about writers and readers in her books, perhaps because writing and reading are what have sustained her through tough, trying times.
One of the short stories that makes up Hoffman's "Blackbird House," one of two official selections of Fox Cities Reads 2008, describes Violet, a young girl living in a Cape Cod farmhouse who loves to read so much that she sneaks out when her family is sleeping and reads by lantern light in the horses' stalls.
In Hoffman's young adult novel "Green Angel," the other Fox Cities Reads selection, a teenager, nicknamed "Green" because of her penchant for helping things to grow, shuts down after a family tragedy and only opens up again after she's able to tell her story on paper.
"I do think that what you read as a child influences not only the reader you become, but the person you become," Hoffman said to her audience Thursday in a packed lower-level meeting room of the Appleton Public Library after reading aloud from her books. "I write very often about ghosts. Not ghosts like 'Boo, Casper,' but how the history and the past come to stay with you in a way."
Fox Cities Reads, the second effort to get residents reading and discussing the same book, is a collaborative effort among the Appleton, Kaukauna, Kimberly-Little Chute, Menasha, Neenah and University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley libraries. Hoffman's talks in Appleton, Kaukauna and Neenah also are part of the first Fox Cities Book Festival, which began Wednesday and ends Sunday.
Many people who came to hear Hoffman carried copies of her books. Some wore Fox Cities Reads 2008 T-shirts or buttons.
Hoffman's visit is the culminating event of the three-month community read, which drew adults and teens into book discussion groups at various public places.
Pat Milheiser of Appleton, a media specialist at Madison Middle School, said many of her students have been reading "Green Angel."
"One of the things my reluctant readers like about 'Green Angel' is that it is short but powerful," Milheiser said. "It's good just to get kids talking about sad topics. Communication is really so important and so vital, and sharing with people is a really healing thing."
Tammie DeVooght Blaney, who works in Green Bay area schools and was able to finish the first story in "Blackbird House" before Hoffman's talk, said Hoffman's appeal lies in her ability to mesmerize readers of all ages.
"I'm in my 30s, I'm reading her, and my daughter is 10, and she's reading her," DeVooght Blaney said. "My students are between 14 and 18, and they're reading her, and I have a college student working with me, she's 23. And we're all really intrigued by the writing."
Kara Patterson: 920-993-1000, ext. 215, or firstname.lastname@example.org