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Northwest writer explores life from many angles
Bainbridge Island writer Claire Dederer will come to Vashon and read from her new book, “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses” this weekend.
Since its December release, reviewers from coast to coast have heaped praise on the book, helping to send it into the top 20 on the New York Times' Bestseller List and pushing it into a second printing just weeks after it arrived on bookstores shelves.
“Poser” is an interweaving of just what the title suggests — the many facets of Dederer’s life: a parent of young children, a wife, a daughter and, of course, a student of yoga.
The book opens with Dederer in a yoga class, where she has found herself because of a bad back. The class is not far from her home in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood, what she calls a “liberal, well-intentioned” enclave familiar to many Islanders. She is to be doing camel pose, but her mind keeps wandering home to her husband (the well known environmental writer Bruce Barcott) and their young daughter.
“I sat for a moment and watched the other students, reaching, thrusting, rising. ... I sank back in child’s pose for a rest and caught a whiff of onions from my hands,” she writes. “I had stuffed a chicken and put in the oven for Bruce and our 1-year-old daughter, Lucy, before I raced off to yoga. The chicken was the passport out of the house. I left them food as though it were a piece of me. Synecdoche: a part representing the whole. A sail representing the fleet. A crown representing a king. A chicken representing a mother.”
This vignette sets the stage for all that comes after, with each chapter named for a yoga pose and, in it, an exploration of Dederer’s past and present. It’s a full story, some of it about yoga, but the heart of it about the bare bones of life: money, chores, extended family, the challenges of the first few years of parenthood. Some of her story is deeply personal as well: the complications at birth for both her children and their resulting hospitalizations, difficult periods in Dederer and Barcott’s marriage and his bouts of depression.
Recurring throughout the book — in five “Child’s Pose” chapters — Dederer revisits her childhood, which was turned upside down when her parents separated when she was 6 — though they did not divorce for decades — and Dederer and her brother shuttled between Dederer’s father and her mom and her boyfriend, often in a very 1970s style of arrangements, including living in a chicken coop on Bainbridge Island and a houseboat on Lake Union.
As with any memoir, readers might wonder what the family, exposed on the pages, thinks about finding themselves there. In this case, it was possible simply to pick up the phone and ask. Donna Dederer — Claire’s mother — lives on Vashon. The family’s response? They are thrilled, Donna said, with Dederer’s achievement and the book’s success.
Dederer has been a writer for many years, her work included in a range of publications, from The New York Times to the Yoga Journal, but this is her first book. Still, it was no surprise to her mother, who said she always knew her daughter would be a writer. “She always wrote, from the time she could hold a pencil,” she said.
Dederer wrote the book she wanted to write, Donna Dederer added, and then gave it to her mother, father and stepfather to see if anything made them uncomfortable. The process went beautifully, she said.
“I feel like the book has a lot of integrity,” Donna Dederer said. “I think she did a great job.”
Claire Dederer will read at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12, at Café Luna. She will be available for questions and to sign books, which are available at Books by the Way.