I went to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on Monday to hear Elizabeth Edwards read from her new book, Saving Graces (I could not make it to the earlier event in Chapel Hill as I was picking up the kids from school at the time). Quail Ridge Books and the surrounding area can get quite busy when a famous person is coming in to sign books (e.g., when Al Gore and Jimmy Carter came there) so I made sure to come really early. By 6:45pm I have already dropped the kids off at grandma’s yet I still had to make a couple of circles to find a parking space and the bookstore was already full. I’d say there were more than 300 people there, including several familiar faces from OAC and the Wake County Dems.
I came to the States in 1991, one week before the war in Yugoslavia broke out. In late summer of 1998 I became a US citizen (and yes, I did recite the Pledge on that day because I wanted to). This happened just in time for me to register to vote and to cast my very first vote in an American election. That being a mid-term year, the top of the ticket was the senatorial race in which I proudly cast my vote – my very first vote – for John Edwards.
Mind you, that was not just a vote against Lauch Faircloth, it was a also a very enthusiastic vote for Edwards. In some ways he reminded me of Dr.Zoran Djindjic who was the young charismatic leader of the democratic opposition in Serbia for whom I voted for back in 1990, who got elected into Parliament, later got elected Mayor of Belgrade, and even later Prime Minister (he got assassinated a few years later, after he packed up Milosevic and sent him to The Hague despite the domestic radical opposition). The youthful energy, the eloquence and the strength of conviction were unmistakeable.
Fast-forward to 2003 and the early speculations about the possible Democratic candidates for the President. I was so excited when it became apparent that John was going to run. I started posting on his campaign blog (now rebuilt as OAC blog) as soon as it was up and running. Later, although I think of myself primarily as a science blogger, I could not help by write about politics quite often, and then…how could I not mention Edwards at least sometimes, both on my old blog and on the new one?
The Edwards campaign blog was really my first true blogging experience (apart from old Usenet groups about Balkans, etc.) and the first realization of how powerful Internet is in building communities. A number of us, harking back to the earliest days of the Edwards blog, have since become friends in real life. And this theme – building communities – is the theme of Elizabeth’s book.
Living in Raleigh for more than a decade, then moving to Chapel Hill right around time the Edwards’ made the same move, I had many more opportunities to meet both of them in person (as well as Cate, Emma Claire and Jack) than an average American. I think of them not just as politicians and TV personalities but also flesh-and-blood neighbors, people I could invite over for dinner (and they would come, if they were not so busy and travelling and such).
And I am not the only who feels this way. Yes, she said she knew I’d be there because she read it on my blog. And yes, I got a hug. But also, it appeared that almost everyone at Quail Ridge Books on Monday personally knew Elizabeth. She knew everyone’s name. Asked about their children by names. The whole Triangle is her neighborhood. She is that kind of person, warm and welcoming, immediately disarming one with her openness and friendliness. Who wouldn’t want her for a neighbor and friend?
Being such a center of a local community, it is no surprise that she is also a magnet around which communities form online. When their son Wade died, she turned to an online newsgroup where grieving people gave each other virtual hugs and cried in each others’ virtual arms. People who have never met each other in real life, became the sources of each other’s strength in times of need. Later, when she was diagnosed with cancer, again she found support and gave her support to others online. During John’s political campaigns, she was the leader of the online community of his fans and supporters.
The book, Saving Graces, describes the communities, local and global, real-life and online, that Elizabeth joined or formed during those hard times. In the book (which I have not bought yet, but I hope I will before Saturday, when I will meet Elizabeth again in Greensboro at ConvergeSouth where I can ask for an authograph) she recounts those trying times of her life from which she emerged stronger than ever, strengthened by outpouring of love and support by myriads of people known and unknown.
I knew Elizabeth majored in English before going to law school, so I never doubted that the book would be well written. And knowing her astounding intelligence and eloquence, I never doubted this would be a brilliant book. Even so, I was surprised and delighted with the short excerpts she read on Monday. The beautiful language, the great turn of phrase, the wit and the wisdom – all those were in ample evidence in just those two short excerpts. She made us laugh at one point. She almost made me cry at another point. This book is obviously not a campaign stunt – this is a real work of art, as well as a deeply personal story. But, instead of me waxing poetic about it, I urge you to watch these two clips from her Monday reading:
Elizabeth Edwards: Saving Graces, Part I
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Elizabeth Edwards: Saving Graces, Part II
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Cross-posted on DailyKos