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I loved school supplies when I was a kid. Still love them, only now I get to call them ‘work supplies.’ Trouble is, I can’t find what I’m looking for.

At first I assumed it was a US/UK terminology problem. I must just have been asking for the wrong things. But, even wandering the aisles of Ryman’s and WH Smith, I could not find them. Where were they? How were people managing without them? I have tried asking for them by description, but no one at those stores knows what I’m talking about. I’ve tried keywords on, and none of the results are right.

We called them “portfolios” when I was in school in the seventies and eighties in New Jersey. Also, “folders.” But the former conjures in the British mind presentation binders with clear sleeves inside, and the latter brings up literal folders: folded card stock in which one can shove papers, but no pockets to keep them in. I’m after “folders with pockets,” but the word “pocket” here brings up a full sized pocket. Imagine a card-stock folder with the two short sides sealed. Sure, you can hold things in them, but you can’t look at the things without taking all of them out.

This is what I’m after: a card-stock folder that when closed is a little larger than a piece of paper, and when open is double that. It opens such that each side is oriented portrait, not landscape. Each of the two insides has a pocket that goes halfway (or maybe a third of the way) up. They come in many colors, so you can sort papers into easily recognized and portable subjects. Once inside, the papers don’t fall out, and you can look at them or rifle through them without taking them out.

Which is a lot of words, clinical, unvivid ones at that, to describe what is, to me, a common object that I never considered important until I couldn’t find one.

Point one: Sometimes writing stalls on something that isn’t interesting but which needs to be clear: the layout of the scene of a crime, or the working of an appliance that later becomes a weapon. These things are obvious upon sight but difficult to put into words. In The Start of Everything, I struggled with a door that was “catercorner” to another, a word none of my early readers knew but which was the literal and sole accurate word to describe the door’s position.

Point two: I really, really want a bunch of these pocket folder thingies. How British people sort their papers without them I do not know. They are now up there with large bottles of Advil and People magazine on my “bring back from America” shopping list.


I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with several book clubs who have read The Whole World. One of the first things that’s often discussed is which narrators people liked the best. There are usually lots of different opinions and lots of interesting points arise.

One character (not a narrator) has been an interesting lightning rod. Miranda, Polly’s mother, is under great stress throughout the book. (Generally, most of the characters in any novel will be under stress; their reactions under pressure and their journeys toward solution/escape are what plot is made of.) She makes some poor, but understandable, maternal choices in the face of those stresses.

This is the interesting thing: I have found that mothers of young children are often disgusted by her, and angry at her. They see plainly that what she does is wrong and, idealistically, see her as something quite apart from themselves. Mothers of grown children, however, have been compassionate towards her, and are more likely to nod in agreement with her motivations even as they disagree with her actions. Both, of course, are right.

One of my favorite lines from a review is “‘The Whole World’ shines as a potent look at the self-absorption and angst of youth and the regrets and doubts of middle age.” (The Richmond Times-Dispatch) I hadn’t consciously highlighted the contrasting ages of the major characters, but subconsciously it was an obvious theme, and one of the points of interest in the book. Similarly, I find that book clubs with a mix of ages have a built-in POV contrast that stirs up discussion and insight.

All of the book clubs I’ve met with have been generous and perceptive. Thanks for being wonderful hosts and sensitive, opinionated readers!

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."