tuning fork, jodi picoult, small great thingsI flew to California this summer and survived the flight by reading a big thick book: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. The book caught me, like the way we get a hitch to our voice when something hits us profoundly.

I thought I knew and understood about race. About how unfair racism is. About how I’m not racist, because I don’t see the color of someone’s skin.

For instance, I was talking to “my” Starbucks barista today about a man who had entered the café at 6 the previous morning singing a Broadway tune in a much too elevated mood for most humans at that time of day.

“Are you talking about Thomas?” Gary the barista asked.

“I’m not sure what his name is,” I answered.

“The Black guy,” Gary probed. (Gary, now that I thought about it, is Black.)

“Umm, sure.” I truly had no idea if the singing Thomas was black or blue or gray. I only remembered that he sang “The hills are alive” loudly and in tune.

So, I cannot be a racist. Right? small great things, jodi picoult, racism

But Picoult wrote from a Black woman’s point of view in her novel, a viewpoint that startled me. That opened my eyes to racism from a Black women’s perspective, not from the perspective of a White woman who “doesn’t see color.”

And I now look at every Black person wondering, “What’s it like for you?”

Picoult’s quote within her end pages, which I now keep on my desktop, reminds me of the importance of literature, and of reading, and of being a writer:

“A writer is like a tuning fork: we respond when we’re struck by something…If we’re lucky we’ll transmit a strong sure note, one that isn’t ours, but which passes through us.” Roxana Robinson

Credit: pixitive Vetta Getty Images.

Can you hear my fork?



88 thoughts on “The TUNING FORK

  1. Pam, I love this quote and had it on my desk for a time after reading the book which I got for Christmas. Your reaction sounds identical to mine and it’s one of the most thought-provoking and memorable books I’ve read this year – your start anyalsing your own reactions and that of others. What a great writer, eh! Hope you’re having a good start to September! 😀❤️

    • That is so neat that you had the same reaction. Yes, as authors I think we would be thrilled to know that we have set others to thinking more about themselves and how they react to others in this world. May you and I always be resounding tuning forks. 💚

  2. Wonderful post Pam, thanks.
    Your tuning fork rings true and strong.
    I am also a lover of Jodi Picoult, think I read all her books.
    Like both you and Annika I find the quote so true and a firm guidance.

    Uplifting for the morning and a reminder to us all.

  3. What a great quote – it’s so important to try to see things from other perspectives because they are ALWAYS different from our own. I haven’t read a Jodi Picoult book in a long time – this sounds like an important one.

  4. Your message and quote re-SON-ate with me. Reading feeds my writing, I think. I’m always reading, taking notes, and noting the rhythm of well-ordered words.

    Thank you for reminding us that good writers are a conduit for transmitting the best ideas and emotional tones.

  5. It is always a wonderful experience to find a book that you don’t simply enjoy, but that also makes you think and see things in a new way.
    That’s a great quotation! Thanks for sharing, Pam!

  6. Isn’t it the human condition to see ‘differences’ whatever form they take … isn’t it our humanity that ‘accepts’ us as we are, no questions? I can’t wonder how it is to be someone else, I can only be who I am, sometimes hold a hand, sometimes raise a smile, always know that someone else is breathing the same air.

    • Interesting questions here Eric about the difference between the human condition and humanity. I’d like to believe that our true humanity allows us to accept the differences ( and even celebrate those differences) in each other, but sometimes I mourn the lack of that capacity that I see in the world. 🌎 What I do believe is that by reading, we find it easier to put ourselves into another’s place, so that our perspective can come from his or her eyes as well as our own. 👀 All the while, as you say, breathing the same air. 💙

      • I’ve come to believe as you Pam, that reading can widen perspective; I know my writing has changed, whatever ability I have to express in some way has come from the diversity of expression, the sensitivities of others in their written words.

  7. It’s a while since I read a Jodi Picoult book. I read all her early ones then felt I couldn’t face another ‘issue’ book . However, Small Great Things, does sound good. And I love the quote.

  8. I enjoyed that book too. There was criticism for it (too many stereotypes, etc), and she knew she’d get some, but at least she tried to bring a difficult discussion out into the open.

    • I’m afraid the better the writer you are, perhaps the more criticism you receive. It’s interesting to me how hard some critics and academics are on Jodi Picoult. My local bookstore owner, who prefers to only shelf “literary books” really holds his nose up at what he calls her ” mainstream fiction.” This attitude frustrates me no end. She tackled an extremely difficult subject and she made many thousands of readers really think hard about race.

    • Thanks Patricia. I usually am leery of praising a book too much because I realize we each have different genres and kinds of literature that we prefer. But this one affected me so much that I wanted to at least share my reaction with others. I hope you decide to read it and then I’d love to hear your reaction. 📚

  9. I love Jodi Picoult and clearly will have to read this one. I like to think of myself as free of racism but I wonder if i might have made the same statement as the barista. You definitely have me thinking.

    • Jodi Picoult certainly had ME thinking. Now I view my ‘lack of seeing color’ as almost patronizing, the last thing I want to be. If you like Picoult books, I think you’ll love this one.

  10. I think I’ve shared with you before how much I love Jodi Picoult, and I’m looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for the nudge – I’ve now reserved it from my local library. I appreciate your frank openness. I too would consider myself ‘colour blind’ but I have no doubt that Jodi can give me plenty to reflect upon and wake up to in this brave novel, as she shares from a black woman’s perspective. This TED talk also caused me to reflect deeply on the notion of race.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post dear Pam. Love the tuning fork analogy, resonance…ripples…reaching out… Love always, Harula xxx

    • Thanks for sharing the fascinating TED talk. Books help get us off our ‘high horse’ or ‘pedestal’ and see things in a much more realistic way. Books have certainly shaped how I see myself, also, and I’m hoping that my writing does the same. Your writing/poetry opens my heart. Harula.

      • Glad you enjoyed the TED talk. Yes exactly, off our high horse in a safe and timely way, because we don’t need to admit to anyone in that moment that we’re coming down…it’s just between us and the book…until we choose to out those new understandings into practice. The warmth and wisdom of your writings, posts and comments, opens my heart dear Pam. xxx

  11. Thank you, Pamela, for this thought provoking post. I hope there will be a day when the world won’t have to ponder what a person is feeling as a result of their skin color. I’ll never see it but I can still hope.

    • Glad you’ll soon read Small Great Things- it’s worth the time. I’ve always noted that if I hear a suggestion from two totally different sources in a short period of time, I should run out and follow through. 🙂

    • Yes, Picoult books always have a ‘message’ on an issue. I like the way the chapters are written from different characters’ points of view. I had a difficult time reading the chapters by the white supremacist, but sure made me think…!

  12. Pingback: The TUNING FORK — roughwighting | By the Mighty Mumford

  13. What a great post, Pam. I had a similar experience when I read, “White Privilege” by Rothenberg. Empathy requires us to step into another’s shoes and see the world through a different lens, recognizing that the experience is totally different. You’re so right that books can give us that powerful lens. Thanks for the book recommendation! ❤

  14. “Reading is a window to the world” and I have seen a lot of people through this window, gazing with awe and admiration at their perspective…many of which have guided me through the most challenging terrain of life.
    Pam, your fork produces most wonderful tunes!

    • Yay, glad to hear that, Norah. I look forward to finding out what you thought of Small Great Things. I wonder if a different narrator is used for each chapter that focuses on a different character . . .

      • One version has different readers. Maybe that’s why. Sadly, it hasn’t downloaded yet. I’ve filled my iPad too full and it can’t think long enough for me to delete stuff and make space. Soooo frustrating.

  15. Ay book that makes its readers really think about the subject is a good one. It requires introspection of the reader and we can definitely use more of that. I have not read her but now I would like to read. Many of us think that we are not racist and I surely do not want to be known as one. However- I don’t think it’s possible to grow up white and live in a white culture not to be racist about something- no matter how small. I have two very good friends that are black and they mean the world to me but, they have told me that white people just can not get a full grasp of what it is like to be black and live within a black culture.

    I’ve worked with and among many black people. They all strove to be better educated and empowered. I was and I am in awe of the nurses that were my co-workers.

    • My world/life would be SO small if I wasn’t a reader. I have great sorrow for those who tell me they don’t ‘read books.’ Can’t imagine how boring and small-minded my life would be without reading.

  16. Love your post and you’ve peeked my curiosity so now I must get the book. I haven’t read Jodi Picoult for some time but, this one I will read. Never a day or a spare moment, for that matter, goes by that I’m not reading something. Stephen King was where I read if you want to be a writer than you must read. Many more than one writer is saying it now. I hope you enjoyed your trip and are now looking forward to Autumn.

    • Stephen King’s book “ON WRITING” is a great one. I use many of his comments/suggestions from that book for my creative writing classes. I think it is impossible for anyone to be a good writer without reading a ton of books.
      I think you’ll really appreciate this latest Picoult book. It’s large, and certainly helped me on my long flight to CA and back. 🙂
      Not sure I’m ready for Autumn yet, but I guess we have no choice. It’s roaring toward us like the Acela Express. Ack!

  17. Agree, great post and yet another reminder to me that I need to read more. At present I am reading Alan Alda’s book “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed …” I understand he just finished his second book and thus need to finish this one before getting the second. Thanks again for sharing.

  18. Love the quote and love Piccoult. I’m always busy trying to get through my Indie reads, which never ends, neglecting some of my favorite trad published authors. 🙂

  19. Very interesting. I have the same feeling about myself–I’m fairly color blind so would say I’m aracist (meaning, race agnostic). It’s only been the last few years that I realized that wasn’t how other people of color saw it. I’ll have to check out this book.

  20. I like your Tuning fork and it comes through loud and clear. I don’t see myself as racist either. I don’t pay attention to color. I have people in my life of all colors. I don’t see it… I forget sometimes that their skin isn’t the same as mine because that is not how I see them. Something in the conversation will remind me once in a while and I stop and think “Oh yeah.. they would see things differently” Then I may become self conscious and wonder if I said something that may have offended them. Most of my friends know my heart so I don’t think any of them see me as racist. I do worry about the cultural implications of a non-tolerant world when it comes to mixed marriages. Only because I wouldn’t want them mistreated based on who they decided to love. People are mean… still and that will not change anytime soon unfortunately. But I would never fault anyone for WHO they love. Color shouldn’t matter. We were all made in God’s image and He loves us just the same, no matter our immigration status (as one Hispanic pastor at our church put it) 😉

  21. I spend some time in the Parisian subway system last week and studied the different faces from all continents and I was thinking how difficult and hard their life must be and how easy and privileged my life is.

    • Oh, yes, Gerlinde. I do the same thing when I’m on urban transportation here in the States. How soul-sucking, being stuck in these metal tubes day after day. Add their social/racial inequality, and how much harder to keep that soul strong and true. I’m in awe that they make it through…

  22. One of my favorite writers who never turns away from the more difficult topics (Nineteen Minutes) and there is probably no more difficult topic right now than racism. We can talk about it forever and still few like we just started. Loved this post, Pam.

    • Thanks, George. That’s why I applaud Jodi Picoult for ‘tackling’ the subject. I know of at least half a dozen people who are now reading, or about to read, this book after I posted my review, so I’m a happy writer.

  23. I love Jodi Picoult books and am going to need to hit the library to pick this up. May need to get on a waitlist!
    My good friend and was a teacher/co-worker who told me about her high school senior son and she going into a jewelry store. Everything was in cases, it was a local shop. I used to go there, before her negative experience. She is black and first of all, so classy and elegant. I could not imagine the scene that transpired. The mother Rhea, was followed around while her son was asked to put his backpack up by cash register. Then, the clerk suggested some low costing rings for her son’s graduation. She asked if they could order a real ruby in the ring? Did they also have any antique engagement settings. As time passed and so many little “digs” (Rhea’s words) were said, like no payments taken, full price paid up front. She said she finally sighed and asked her son to leave the store. When he was outside, she told the two shopkeepers/clerks that she taught school, she had lived her whole life here in Delaware Ohio. She was engaged and was going to bring her fiance (an attorney) to purchase a half carat diamond ring. Not now.
    She has definitely planned on buying a real ruby graduation ring, but Not now. And sadly, she said this young man is salutatorian of Delaware High School. She didn’t yell but told this to our AAUW group at next meeting. We were appalled. We all agreed she showed a real dignity in her response. My oldest daughter needless to say and her sister didn’t get their rings there! Little slights grow when they reoccur over and over again. It is not over. I’m sad in 1963 my parents dropped us off for a week while our church went to Washington DC. So much time, so little progress. Sigh.

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