Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another Former Steanso Housemate Does Interesting Stuff

Man, it's already really hot out there, and we haven't even gotten to June yet. I'm afraid this summer is gonna be a scorcher.

There's a really good article in The Austin Chronicle this week about a new book that was written by a good friend of mine from college, Karen Valby. Karen was a year or so below me in school, but she lived with me (and Lee Thweatt and Drew Watson and... uh, I can't remember if Marty or Wendy or Laura or anyone else was living at the Mulberry house at that time- I'm sure that Sarah was around quite a bit) for one summer while we were all working our summer jobs and just hanging out with friends and trying to make a little cash before school started. Karen's apparently been writing for Entertainment Weekly (which sort of cracks me up, since the only argument that I ever remember having with her was about whether or not I was an a**hole for making fun of my roommates for watching soap operas, reruns of Melrose Place, and other crap TV- and yeah, I was probably being a big ol' jackass).
Anyhoo, Karen's apparently just finished a book called Welcome to Utopia: Notes From a Small Town, and she's doing readings from her book next Thursday at Book People (7:00 p.m.). Apparently the book is just sort of a look at the people in the small, Texas town of Utopia- an examination of their lives, attitudes, personalities, and way of life. At first it kind of struck me as a little strange that Valby was writing about small town Texas life, since she grew up out east (I think she's from Maryland), but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As Valby told reporter Cindy Widner, it's probably good to have an outsider's perspective when you're going to try to create an account of a new place (to help avoid bias) and an outsider's perspective probably makes the most sense in terms of being able to spot the distinguishing characteristics that make a place unique (a lifelong Texan who had spent a lot of time in small towns might not find many details worth mentioning that might strike others as interesting, unique, or even shocking).
Mostly, though, the article just made me chuckle. Karen is kind of a small, extremely friendly person with a very warm smile and an infectious laugh, but (as I remember it) she's also very outgoing and opinionated and pretty strong willed (her father is/was an attorney, so maybe she inherited it). Anyhow, when the article talks about Karen arguing with the residents of Utopia about some of their casual racism (as well as telling them about the adoption of her Ethiopian daughter), it just made me smile, because I can just imagine Karen arguing tooth and nail with these people- and then having the locals walk away from the conversation still feeling charmed and sort of entertained by Karen. She just has a knack for that sort of thing (I remember spending a number of evenings sitting around our poorly air conditioned house house and drinking beer while listening to/participating in friendly arguments between Lee, Drew, and Karen about subjects ranging from philosophy to politics to music).
Huh. College was a good time.
Anyway, I couldn't be happier for Karen. Between her fairly recent move to Austin, the addition of her new daughter to the family, and the release of this book, things sound like they're really rolling her way, lately.
So, if you have any interest in such things, I encourage you to get the book. I'm betting it's going to be an interesting read.
Congrats, Valby!!

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