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Review of Late Migrations (w/ Book Club Questions & The Today Show)

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I was on The Today Show.  I was on THE TODAY SHOW!  Holy cannoli.  Here's what happened. Below also is my review of Late Migrations (+ book club questions).

My Today Show Story

An Ordinary Morning

Before work one day, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and spotted a quote from the author of Jenna Bush's latest book club pick, Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl:

It resonated deeply with me.  It reminded me of the last line of my favorite tv show, The Office, "There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things.  Isn't that kind of the point?" 

And it made me stop and think about what my mission is as a blogger promoting the value of reading in a chaotic, digital, over-stylized and "highlight reel" kind of world.  I believe in the value of stories, of the empathy and knowledge we gain from them and how they change us for the better.  And in stories, the ordinary in life can often be extraordinary. 

So, anyway, I commented on the @ReadwithJenna Instagram post: "This.  All of this."  and I shared it in my Instagram stories. 

"There's Been a Call"

I checked my Instagram page again at lunch and was shocked, no FLOORED, to have a message from @ReadwithJenna asking me to be part of an upcoming segment on The Today Show, discussing the book with the author. 

Here is where I am going to let you in on a secret: I hadn't even read the book yet!  I texted my husband, "Should I drop everything, read it and say yes?"

At the same time, I didn't actually believe this was real yet.  I told my husband I would feel them out.  Maybe they just wanted a tweet or something they could post on the screen?  And then, maybe they wouldn't even pick mine?

Nope.  They wanted me on tv to ask the author questions.  Gasp!  The normal side of me was completely ecstatic to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and also to feel that the little internet community I had only recently created was resonating with people and thriving. 

On the other hand, the introverted, bookish side of me was an anxious, nervous wreck!  I started panicking:  How could I be on tv?  Me! I'm not a tv person.  I'm a silently read and write alone kind of person. 

So, like any human ball of nerves would do (I'm an Enneagram 6, which can be described in two words, "I worry"), instead of jumping at the amazing opportunity, I asked for their deadline (the end of the day) and then told them I would let them know by then.  (Side note: what was I thinking?!) 

Then, for a few hours, I pictured myself bumbling over my words, falling off my chair and becoming a viral laughing stock.  I tried to talk myself off the anxiety ledge: (a) This was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; (b) it was taped, not live; and (c) I could sit in my pajama pants at home and film if I really wanted to.  How could I pass this up solely out of fear?  I talked it through with my husband one last time on the phone and knew I had to say yes.  

As the day ended, I got in my car and turned it on.  A strange thing happened then.  Out of nowhere, my iTunes started playing.  Now, I haven't listened to iTunes in a few years, and the only songs I have on there are from Broadway musicals I attended.  I was also halfway through a podcast that morning, so it was odd that the podcast didn't simply resume. 

The song was from my favorite musical, Sunset Boulevard, and it was called ... "There's Been a Call."  The song is about old Hollywood actress Norma Desmond getting a call to return to Paramount Studios to film and making them wait all day until she says yes.  It was a sign.  It had to be.  At that moment, my anxiety waned and I started feeling the excitement. 

I called my mom and shared the good news, then reached out to my closest friends as well.   My husband and I reconvened in person and talked about how happy we were that I was facing my fears for such a wonderful opportunity.  

Review of Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl

I downloaded Late Migrations on Audible and started listening. My review of Late Migrations is that it was fantastic -- a five-star read for me. In the book, Renkl shares bits of her life, some larger moments and some smaller moments, primarily as she grew up in Alabama in the 1960s. She writes in short micro-essays and connects the essays to themes of: nature, love, loss, the value of memories and the meaning of life.

For these reasons, it's a great book for Spring. If you are doing a 50 States of America reading challenge, this also makes a great book for Alabama.

Each word matters and the essays have poetic qualities. They are soulful and bittersweet, as they explore a complex range of emotions that everyone experiences in life: love, joy, sadness and darkness. Renkl acknowledges, through several connections to nature, that everything that lives will die, but she exquisitely explores the meaning of life and the grief that follows after death, and so I also consider this to be one of the best books on grief.

This excerpt perfectly captures the spirit of my review of Late Migrations:

It's the type of book everyone should read at least once, and then take some sort of action to preserve memories, both big and small, in their own lives. It's also a very quick and easy read to which anyone and everyone can relate.

The quality of Late Migrations and its major life themes made it easy to come up with discussion questions. I typed up a page and a half worth of questions and had a conference call with a sweet and kind producer, Patricia, who gave me the impression she truly valued promoting books, which is so important to me as well.

She couldn't believe how many discussion questions I came up with, but I just said, "You picked a really Type A person for this."

Book Club Questions for Late Migrations

Below are some of the questions I came up with as I was reading and preparing a review of Late Migrations. You can use them for your own book club. This would make an EXCELLENT book club choice.

Love and loss are major themes in the book.  Do you see loss as a necessary part of love?

Renkl states that the cycle of life may as well be called the cycle of death. Is this a pessimistic view of life or a realistic one?

Do you see the locations of the essays (Alabama, Philadelphia, Nashville) as characters themselves or did you view nature more generally when reading this book?

Most of the memories in the essays took place pre-technology.  Do you believe technology affects our connection with nature in a bad way? Would it be possible for a child today to connect with nature the same as Renkl did?

Renkl talks about learning to read so vividly. Was learning to read something you remembered vividly in your own life?

Do you believe nature was an escape for Renkl from Vietnam and race relations in Alabama at the time?

Do you believe Renkl's eyesight problems influenced her appreciation of nature?

“Home” is a theme of this book.  To you, is home one place or does it change?

Renkl's mother fell in love with reading from the book Pride and Prejudice. Did any particular books make you love reading?

Renkl said that we can always find some joy in the darkness.  How can we do this?

Renkl talks about your deep fear of loss.  Are we all afraid of loss? How can we manage this fear?

One major theme is cherishing the simplicity of life.  How can we capture and remember the ordinary in our own lives?

For more, read my 109 book club questions for discussion of fiction & nonfiction that can apply to ANY book.

Filming & Airing

The filming schedule changed several times over the course of the next few days, which, to be honest, was difficult and confusing. I imagine, though, that this happens all the time on tv.

I was originally supposed to appear via Skype, which would have been fun to experience. I was hoping to get a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the production process.

However, after a technical glitch prevented that, I was asked to film myself asking a question and send it in via email. I set up my phone on a stack of books in the kitchen and did my best -- it wasn't professional quality by any means, and it was hard to capture myself in a wide frame and to show emotion while "being real" at the same time, especially in this type of setup.

After a few very casual takes at this, I called it a day and headed to work. After all, the video was only five seconds of my entire life and it probably wasn't going to get much better on my iPhone in my kitchen!

The segment aired three days later. I thought it came out pretty well overall! It felt like such an honor to be part of the discussion of a powerful book.

Watch The Today's Show segment on Late Migrations.

Read with Jenna on The Today Show

I am the second reader asking a question, a bit more than halfway through the segment, and I asked Renkl about the process of remembering the small moments in her life.

Lessons Learned

The process of reading and preparing a review of Late Migrations, as well as appearing on The Today Show taught me tremendous lessons. As an anxious, quiet person, I had to face and walk directly through a lot of fears in order to relax and enjoy this amazing opportunity. For starters, I had to be ok with not being perfect on national television, because it would never feel perfect -- that's life!

Lastly, and most importantly, I learned that when you force yourself to get outside of your comfort zone and to share yourself and things that matter to you in a way that is authentic to "you" and genuine online and on social media, you can connect with others in a positive way. I think facing such fears is something to which any creative introvert can relate.

The experience reminded me of this quote from The Alchemist:

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Paulo Coelho

Pairings for Late Migrations

For more like  Late Migrations:

  • This book inspires action.  Take some sort of action to preserve memories, both big and small, in your own life.
  • Since grief permeates so much of this book, you may wish to check out my list of books about grief and death.
  • Jenna Bush Hager has said that this book reminds her of Mary Oliver's poems.  Check them out! (They are on my list.)
  • Check out the complete list of Jenna Bush Hager's book club picks.

I highly recommend Late Migrations, especially for a book club, as it offers so many major life topics to discuss. I hope you enjoyed this review of Late Migrations (+ discussion questions + me on The Today Show)!

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Add a Comment:

Perry Granberry

Tuesday 28th of January 2020

I got here by way of Good Reads Nd Late Migrations....Margaret and Billy were students of my first wife, Ann Granberry. She taught English at Homewood Margaret’s Sr. Year. I treasure the book, obviously. Glad to know about your Today Show bit...does Margaret know about that? I wonder...

Julianne Buonocore

Tuesday 28th of January 2020

Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. It is definitely a book to be treasured. And Margaret was on The Today Show for the discussion!


Saturday 28th of December 2019

Oh, my gosh! What a wonderful experience! I'm glad you put yourself out there. Sometimes it's hard to stretch our limits, but it's almost always worthwhile to do so. Congratulations!

Julianne Buonocore

Saturday 28th of December 2019

I totally agree! Thank you!!

Lisa Leone Campbell

Monday 23rd of December 2019

Congratulations! I have blogger envy!

Julianne Buonocore

Monday 23rd of December 2019

Thank you!!


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