Anticipating the Amazing in the Ordinary

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Syndicated Columnist Sharon Randall's Essays on Life and Family Find Book Sense Fans

Birdbaths and Paper Cranes, a collection of personal essays by syndicated columnist Sharon Randall, is making friends among booksellers. The Sleeping Bear Press title is a January/February Book Sense 76 selection, nominated by Bob Spear of The Book Barn in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Spear called the book "lyrical in its eloquence about family and motherhood" and said the writing was "funny and often touching, and almost every one of [the essays] had at least one 'a-ha' moment that left me with goose bumps."

"When I write a column, I always try to write as if I'm writing to a friend," said Randall, syndicated columnist for the Monterey County Herald and Scripps Howard News Service. "I read it out loud, editing as I go, and if it doesn't sound conversational, like something I'd say over coffee to a friend; I rewrite it until it does. That's why it's called a personal column. It's personal."

The essays' titles reflect the humor and relaxation of heartfelt conversation. "Tea Right Now" tells how Randall's daughter's penchant for tea parties as a little girl came with a built-in lesson for enjoying the "right now." And "Jellyfish, Sharks, and a Table for One" talks of why returning to her honeymoon spot on her 29th wedding anniversary, less than two months after her husband's death, helped her begin to heal.

Birdbaths and Paper Cranes is a family tale told through essays featured in her weekly syndicated column "Bay Window," which debuted in the Monterey County Herald in 1991. Randall's column now appears in 400 newspapers nationwide with a readership of six million.

Randall explains in the book's preface: "For 10 years, twice each week, I have been writing about the ordinary people and everyday things that fill my head with stories and my life with adventure--that make me want to wake each morning just to see who will show up and what will happen next…. Each one stands alone to tell its own tale. But collectively, fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, they all tell the tale of a family."

Weaving in and out of time periods, the essays offer glimpses of her family life inside her 87-year-old house as wife to Randy, a Monterey High School teacher and coach; and mother of Josh, Joanna, and Nate. Josh, her eldest, who wrote the book's foreword, plays Dr. Mike Burton on the television show Ed.

Birdbaths and Paper Cranes is peppered with childhood stories: growing up in Landrum, South Carolina, with her blind brother, Joe, who asked her to be his eyes; her sister Bobbie, who can make the best iced tea in the Southern tradition; her mother who married her father at 15 and divorced when the author was two; and two sets of grandparents who gave her the best of two worlds--one surrounded by people and one surrounded by nature.

Randall noted that "I've been amazed to meet people who say they feel as if they know me, because they've been reading my columns for years in the paper, or more recently in the book. They look at me and their faces light up as if I were a long-lost cousin. It's not that they know me, really, but that they know the things I care about ... the things I write about ... and they care about those things, too. No matter how much we differ as people, we 're the same in matters of the heart."

Matters of the heart helped her find the unusual title for her book, which was only two memories away.

"I wanted to call it Everyday People and Ordinary Things because that's what I write about," explained Randall. "My editor said, 'That's nice, Sharon, but we might as well call it Boring Book.' In the end, Scott Brown, my editor at the Monterey County Herald suggested we take the title from what he said were two of his favorite columns.

"The first was one I wrote 10 years ago, on how I broke the birdbath in our front yard and my husband got mad and didn't speak to me for three days. The second was one I wrote in 1997, a few months before my husband died from colon cancer. It told of how his students at Monterey High School, in keeping with a Japanese legend, folded a thousand paper cranes in his behalf as a wish for good health."

Randall has appeared in bookstores in more than 30 cities, but two stand out in her heart.

"My favorite book signing was when a 12-year-old boy named Jonathan, waited in a long line for me to sign a book he bought with his own money for his favorite aunt," she recalled. "When I thanked him for buying the book and asked how I could sign it, he said straight-faced, without the slightest hesitation, 'in cursive!'"

Randall said her most memorable bookstore experience was at Thunderbird Bookshop, in Carmel, California, in early December. "I can't tell you how many hours I've spent in there over the years, browsing and buying countless books that were written by somebody else. This time, when I stepped to the microphone and looked out across the gathering of smiling, nodding faces, I had to laugh. It never occurred to me that I would one day be standing there reading from a book I had written."

Randall hopes that Birdbaths and Paper Cranes encourages readers to tell their own stories. "Every good story should always invite another."

-Gayle Herbert Robinson