At the beginning of 2020, bestselling writer Jennifer Weiner was looking forward to some big things happening in her life. In March she would be turning the big 5-0 birthday, and she thought she might have a party with friends and family. In addition, she had planned a big trip with her husband and two daughters over the summer to commemorate the occasion. They were going to go to Alaska, someplace Weiner has always wanted to visit. She was looking forward to rafting, hiking and seeing the glaciers. Weiner was also excited about her book tour in conjunction with the summer release of her new book Big Summer.
But like all of us, Weiner’s 2020 isn’t going quite as she envisioned. While she did celebrate her 50th, it was with a wonderful dinner with her husband and two children (her mother and other important people in her life were able to be there through Zoom). She decided to postpone the trip to Alaska to the following year when the world is hopefully calmer.
While her book tour was canceled, Weiner (along with her publisher) decided that Big Summer would be released on May 5th, a few months earlier than initially planned. Weiner explains, “Due to COVID-19, some books publications were postponed, but I wanted the book released sooner rather than later. When I wrote Big Summer, I thought with the 2020 election coming up, people would be looking for a fast, frothy read to get a break from the noise. I wrote Big Summer as an escape for readers and we need an escape from what is going on right now.”
The main character in the book is Daphne Berg, a plus-sized influencer who reconnects with an old friend. Weiner has always been about representation in her books, influenced by Toni Morrison, who said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Weiner explains, “When I was young, there were no books about full-figured protagonists that weren’t about losing weight and I wondered ‘Where is my happy ending?’ so ever since I became a writer, I have felt the need to write that story.”
Big Summer addresses issues such as family, friendship, body-shaming and forgiveness. Weiner believes that as we get older, forgiveness comes to us more easily. She explains, “In your 20’s, every betrayal by a parent, a friend or a boyfriend makes you feel let down. But in your 40’s and 50’s you have a different perspective. You can put yourself in someone else’s shoes, be more empathetic.” That’s not saying that every relationship is worthy of forgiveness, As Weiner explains, “You need to be strong and know your worth so that you don’t repeat the same topic relationship.”
In addition to writing bestselling books, Weiner is a contributing opinion writer to The New York Times. Her most recent piece on April 14th is about public shaming amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Weiner talks about the anger she feels when she sees people disobeying social distancing rules and her innate desire (like many of us) to shame these rule-breakers. But she also concludes that shaming is ineffective and suggests we channel our anger into more constructive ways of helping the world. As is Weiner’s signature, the piece conveys an important message with humor. Weiner says, “Growing up as oldest of four kids, you needed to be either really interesting or really funny to be heard. So, I have always used humor to get my message across.”
Her sense of humor has helped Weiner as she has navigated the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many women, she finds herself in the role of primary caregiver even though her husband is well-meaning and supportive. She says, “I am not sure if it’s innate or societal, but as Roseanne said, ‘It’s hard being the capable one.’ I am trying to be creative, but now, in addition to being a wife, mother and writer, I am teaching school, doing laundry and running a 24-hour diner.”
Although it is difficult, Weiner tries to find time for self-care, including taking long walks, baking, gardening and playing the piano. Weiner says, “I started taking piano lessons a while ago and I’ve been trying to make sure I take time to practice. When I play, I need to focus on the music on the page and can’t think about anything else.” Weiner started gardening because she was worried about having fresh vegetables during the pandemic. She says, “This is the first time I’ve started with seeds. I am growing tomatoes and eggplants. It’s very therapeutic to see the seedlings sprout.”
Because Weiner knows first-hand how hard busy women are and how hard it for them to take time for themselves, she made self-care part of her book giveaway promotion. Weiner explains, “For the days leading up the Big Summer, I am offering a chance for readers to win the book plus a $100 gift card. The only catch is that they need to use the gift card on themselves.” To enter, all readers need to do is leave their name on her Instagram or Facebook account.
Weiner is looking forward to the release of her book and to interact with readers even if it’s online. She says, “When the quarantine is over, I am not going to take things for granted. I’m going to go out in the world and savor it. I can’t wait to give people hugs again!”
Photographer: Andrea Cipriani Mecchi