'Small Blessings' is existentialism at its sweetest

Aug 26, 2014

Martha Woodroof has only recently added “author” to her resume. In her other past lives, she was a teacher’s aide, a restaurateur, a TV news anchor… and then there was the time she spent in public radio.

At WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Woodroof was the local host for NPR’s All Things Considered. “I was mainly a reporter,” Woodroof said. “And the whole time I was sort of a small emergency backup for Lynn Neary reporting on books for NPR. It was the best gig in the world.”

It’s not surprising that such a book lover would eventually write a novel.

The book is called Small Blessings, and there’s even a character who’s an NPR editor in the story. He uses a hilariously grim metaphor to describe his work.

“That was the expression my first book editor at NPR used to use,” Woodroof said. “I’d call her up and say, ‘How’s your day?’ and she’d say, ‘Oooh, I’ve been pecked to death by ducks.”

Woodroof says a lot of moments in Small Blessings are like that-- cribbed, as she says, from her own experiences and interactions.

“I guess I just enjoy the details of life.”

And Small Blessings is about enjoying the details of life, too.

As the title suggests, the story is small in scope, but universally relatable-- the main character is a Shakespeare professor, but the story is told from the points of view of other characters, too-- a combative, alcoholic feminist; a feisty, grieving mother; an overcompensating charmer; and a spontaneous bookseller, all of whose lives are turned completely upside down.

“I wanted to look at characters who are doing the best they can, but whose lives are perhaps a bit parched,” Woodroof said, “and to present them with opportunities to have a more fulfilling life.“

Small Blessings explores how challenging it can be to embrace change, even when that change is for the best.

Life, Woodroof said, can seem like a relentless series of confusing events.

"You can either dive under the bed in despair," Woodroof said, "Or you can find it amusing, and realize that every good day that happens really is a good day, and not argue with it."

Martha Woodroof will read from, and sign copies of, her book Small Blessings tonight at 7 at Malaprop’s Bookstore in downtown Asheville.