The first installment of the “Celebrations Book Club by Cheryl’s Cookies” took place June 14 and featured New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner. Weiner discussed her latest book, That Summer, with host Claudia Copquin, founder and producer of the Long Island Litfest.
Weiner was, understandably, devastated by her mom’s death. But she was also able to find some silver linings amid the grieving process.
“I’m trying to just be grateful for all the years that my daughters had with her,” said Weiner, who has two girls, Lucy, 18, and Phoebe, 13. “I’m so grateful we’re living in the time of iPhones, when you can have your camera out all the time and have pictures and pictures and pictures and videos.”
Weiner, a New York Times bestselling author whose latest book, That Summer, was published two days after Fran’s death, discussed that and more during the first installment of the Celebrations Book Club by Cheryl’s Cookies on June 14. Acting as host of the evening was Claudia Copquin, founder and producer of the Long Island Litfest, which put on the virtual event. Attendees each received a free shipment of Cheryl’s cookies to enjoy while on the Zoom call.
A book about women’s struggle and strength
That Summer stems from a thought Weiner had: “What if a woman started getting someone else’s emails?” Without giving too much away, the book is about two women who have similar email addresses, and their paths crossing because of that coincidence.
It also deals with serious topics such as the damage women suffer when they are mistreated by men.
“I wanted to write a book about the way that trauma shapes women’s lives, the different ways women respond to it — whether you face it head on or you just try to ignore it, whether you push it down or you pull it up,” Weiner said. “And I wanted these women’s intersection to be built on the foundation of that kind of harm.”
Copquin asked Weiner where she got the inspiration for one particularly memorable character in That Summer named Beatrice, a rebellious teenager who’s into cottagecore. Weiner said she “took the best and bravest and most outspoken parts of her daughters, and gave them to Beatrice.
“I really believe that this generation of young women is possibly going to be the generation that saves us,” Weiner said. “I have so much faith that these girls have the courage of their convictions and that they have the tools. I think that social media has given them the tools to speak their truth.”
‘Happiness doesn’t have a number on a scale or a size inside of a dress’
In addition to discussing her novel, Weiner took questions from those in attendance. That led to her opening up on topics including women’s empowerment and how she’s learned to become more accepting of herself.
One fan asked Weiner to talk about, what she termed, her “butterfly experience” — that is, the metamorphosis she underwent in going from someone who was overweight and uncomfortable with her appearance to someone who decided she would not be defined by her looks.
“I had a typical fat girl journey, where I had a lot of years of just hating myself, desperately wanting to change myself, and thinking that if I was 20 or 30 or 40 pounds smaller, everything would be perfect and great and wonderful,” Weiner said. “And the older I got, the more I realized that happiness doesn’t have a number on a scale or a size inside of a dress, and that waiting is a bad thing to do, like postponing your happiness until it’s 10 pounds from now.”
Weiner brought up the fact that her grandmother, her mom’s mom, lived to be 101, and that because of that, she believed her own mother would live that long. But that’s not what happened.
“What that tells me is none of us know when it’s going to be our our time,” Weiner said. “And that means that every day, every moment of potential happiness, it is our job to grab it with both arms and not care if there are jiggly bits or if we look a little squishy in our swimsuits.”
Weiner recounted a memory of her and Lucy looking at baby photos, and her daughter pointing out that her mom was absent from many of them.
“I wasn’t getting in pictures because I hadn’t lost the baby weight, and I didn’t feel really good about myself,” Weiner said. “And I just sort of realized, my daughter thinks I wasn’t there. In an important way, I wasn’t because I wasn’t letting myself be seen.”
That prompted Weiner to look inward and ask herself the question: “How do I square this with my feminism?”
“I believe that our worth is defined by our brains, by our choices, by our work, by what we do, by what we say, and how we look is about 110th on that list,” she said. “[So I said to myself,] ‘No matter how I’m feeling, I’ve got to put that bathing suit on, I’ve got to get in the water, I’ve got to be in the pictures — I can’t always be the one behind the camera.’ And I think that’s been my journey.”
Arriving at a place of self-acceptance wasn’t easy for Weiner, and it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it wasn’t until the death of her mother that she realized she needed to stop living for herself and start living for others.
“I just want to be in the world as much as I possibly can, and I think it’s because of losing my mom,” Weiner said. “She was in the world so much. She rode her bike, and she played tennis, and she hiked with my daughters, and she taught them how to swim. And I don’t want to lose a minute of that.”
A rousing success, and an encore
At the conclusion of the event, the praise poured in from those on the call.
Kathleen McCarthy wrote: “Thank you for offering this online event. I am enjoying this discussion. And thank you for the cookies. Definitely a nice pairing!”
Amanda Warner said: “Thank you for such a wonderful conversation and delicious cookies!”
And Susan Rodgers chimed in: “Such a great event! Jennifer, you are inspiring! Delicious cookies, too! 😊”
The second installment of the Cheryl’s Book Club will take place Oct. 2 and feature New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell, who will discuss her new book, The Night She Disappeared (release date Sept. 7).