Today The Mermaid Chair
comes out in paperback. I marked the occasion a few days early by having a celebration picnic on the beach with my daughter and two year old grandson. Two of us ate coconut shrimp and curried rice and one of us ate chicken fingers dipped alternately in Ketchup and applesauce. We toasted the paperback’s birthday with two glasses of iced tea and one apple juice in a sippy cup.
The experience reminded me of the All Girl Picnic in the novel (at least the part about eating and laughing on a beach). It’s one of my favorite scenes in The Mermaid Chair
, and ever since writing it I’ve harbored a secret desire to attend one of these picnics myself.
So imagine my delight when I began to hear about reading groups creating All Girl Picnics. In the novel, the picnic was an annual event, which took place on the beach every May Day eve and involved a big feast, dancing by a fire, lots of laughter, and May Day presents (usually flaming red nail polish and bubble bath). These exuberant and slightly unbridled affairs were essentially celebrations of friendship and female solidarity. During the picnic described in Chapter Twelve, the small circle of island women in the book– Kat, Hepzibah and Nelle– wade into the ocean, tie three threads together and toss them onto the waves, an impromptu ritual that expresses the power and cohesion of their community.
I was told about a book club that reenacted the thread-tying ritual at an All Girl Picnic on a California beach. Another group held the picnic beside a backyard swimming pool, serving two of the same Low Country dishes as the women in the novel: crab cakes and raisin bread pudding. Everyone got red nail polish and a seashell to take home. Recently someone told me their group is planning an All Girl- Plus Two Guys- Picnic, since their book club has two men in it.
Reading groups come together because of books, but perhaps they’re also drawn by the same thing that lies at the heart of the All Girl Picnics: community.
So to all of you– I wish you happy reading, eating, laughing, dancing, sharing, and celebrating the ties that connect you.