I was en route to Jefferson, Texas to give a reading of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict to the Pulpwood Queens Book Club when the flight attendant announced that he wasn’t quite sure our landing gear was working. There probably wasn’t anything to worry about, he said, though I later learned that the Shreveport Fire Department was out in full force to greet us just in case. Hands gripping the armrest, I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said, “Why did they have to tell us that?” She shrugged. And so I said some prayers and then went back to my book; I was reading Emma. If those last twenty minutes of flight time were to be my last twenty minutes alive, I would go down reading Jane Austen. Sure enough, Austen took me out of myself, out of my fears, and into Highbury, where Emma danced with Mr. Knightley at the Crown. And before I knew it, the plane was safely on the ground.
Like the protagonist of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict , I use Austen as comfort, guidance, and a cure for a host of ills that come with modern living. Unlike her, I found myself transported not to Regency England, but to Beauty and the Book, the headquarters of the Pulpwood Queens, and the only beauty salon/bookstore in America. Their motto? “Where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the rule!” At Beauty and the Book, bookshelves lined with must-reads face racks of RedKen products, and stacks of the club’s monthly picks are flanked by hairdryers. Tiaras and other rhinestone goodies are also on offer. One thing that struck me was the absence of gossip magazines, the typical reading fare of hair salons. Then again, there is nothing typical about Beauty and the Book. If you want to read while you’re getting your hair done, there are plenty of choices, but they don’t include accounts of celebrity divorce and who made a fashion faux pas on the red carpet.
At the meeting, book club members, most decked out in tiaras, some sporting the club’s signature hot pink T-shirt, seat themselves in hairstyling chairs to tuck into fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and other Southern delights they’ve cooked specially for the occasion. Kathy Patrick, the original Pulpwood Queen and author of the upcoming Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life, is the charismatic and benevolent ruler, making announcements, encouraging everyone to fill a plate and get comfy. This group is here to have fun, but first and foremost it is there to fulfill Kathy’s mission, which is “to get the world reading.”
And so the readings and discussions began. This month there were two selections, and so I not only got to read and discuss Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, I got to meet Masha Hamilton and listen to her read from her wonderful novel, The Camel Bookmobile, as well as hear about the real Camel Book Drive she’s launched as a result of writing her book.
When the last bite of chocolate pie had been consumed and the last of the tiara-wearing Queens filed out the door, Masha and I were in for yet another treat: hair tips from Kathy, who showed us some cool tricks for last-minute special looks. As I left this enchanted place, I wondered, What would Jane Austen think of Beauty and the Book and The Pulpwood Queens? I’m convinced she’d love them. For one, the Pulpwood Queens live up to what Anne Eliot said in Persuasion: “My idea of good company… is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.” The Queens are definitely my idea of good company—truly a delightful group of women who were full of questions and stimulating ideas. As for their Jefferson, Texas venue, I am reminded of the circulating libraries of Austen’s day, often fashionable places where patrons could borrow books for a fee, and which also sold jewelry and other trinkets. If they had offered hairstyling, too, they might have been nearly as perfect as Beauty and the Book.
Book Club Girl Here: Laurie, this sounds like it was great fun and I'm glad you got to meet Masha Hamilton too! I grabbed some photos from your site and here's a link to all the rest of them.