NORMAN — Author Amy Tan, during an appearance in Norman that capped this year's Big Read event, poked fun at her notoriety and encouraged others to observe the world around them.
“I didn't do well on my SATs when I was applying to go to college. On the verbal portion, I got in the 400s, if you can believe that,” Tan said.
“Later in life, I discovered that I was an advanced placement question on the SAT. I think they use some essay of mine, and people have to write about it. So that was a big honor — kind of an ironic honor.”
Tan spoke to about 350 people Friday at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Her appearance was sponsored by the Pioneer Library System in conjunction with the Big Read. Tan wrote this year's selection, “The Joy Luck Club,” a collection of vignettes about the complicated relationships between Chinese mothers and their daughters.
Hui Cao, a University of Oklahoma student who moved to Norman from China in July to major in instructional psychology and technology, was the first in line to get her book signed after Tan's speech.
“This is very, very vivid pictures, not only of the women, but also the history of China. She has the women's perspective,” Cao said.
Tan shared details of her life growing up in the United States, Holland, Germany and Switzerland. She teared up as she recounted a final conversation with her mother before she died.
“As I write, I'm thinking of all these things that happened and the emotions, and what writing is about is feeling deeply. And what observing the world is about is seeing and feeling deeply, and as I continue to see and look more closely, I keep finding more secrets of my family,” Tan said.
“All these things that are the meaning of my life have always been there in front of me, and if only I spent the time to look at it a lot more closely,” Tan said.
“The Joy Luck Club” tells the story of four Chinese women in 1949 — drawn together by the shadow of their past — who begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah-jongg, invest in stocks, eat dim sum and tell stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club.
Sharing the joy
Sandra Dansby attended the free event with her friend Jamie Hubbard. Both Norman women read “The Joy Luck Club” for their book club as part of the Big Read and recommend it for mothers and daughters to read together.
“A lot of us in the book club also play mah-jongg, and that's another thing we have in common with the women in this book. Most of us have daughters, so that was kind of fun, too,” Hubbard said.
Dansby said she and her mother routinely swap electronic reading devices so they can share books, and she passes paper copies down to her daughter.
“My mother has been around a long time and I've talked with her, but my daughter is becoming an adult, and I'm having more conversations with her,” Dansby said. “It's another experience that we can share.”
About Big Read
The Pioneer Library System's Big Read is a communitywide series of programming and activities centered on a work of literature. Tie-in events included scholar panel discussions, a performance by Chinese Dragon Dancers and a special screening of “The Joy Luck Club” at the Warren Theatre in Moore. Saturday, Tan was the guest at a fundraising brunch at Moore-Norman Technology Center's South Penn campus.
Joy Cooper, of Norman, said having multiple events in diverse locations brings the community together. She attended Friday's speech and book signing after she discovered almost all the Big Read events were over.
“I realized I had missed it all, so I thought, I will not miss tonight. I want to be sure to be better informed next year, so my attendance can be better,” Cooper said.
The Pioneer Library System gave away 1,400 copies of “The Joy Luck Club” during Big Read, and checkout rates have been steady since the announcement of the selection last spring, officials said.
Official book discussions were held in the system's 10 libraries in Cleveland, McClain, and Pottawatomie counties during the month of April. The Pioneer Library System has hosted Big Read events since 2007, beginning with “The Grapes of Wrath.” Other Big Reads have included “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Bless Me Ultima,” “The Maltese Falcon,” and “The Things They Carried.”