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Archive for May, 2012

AIDS & Literature (Plus More Details about Grassroot Soccer and Its Work to Eliminate HIV/AIDS)

Our earlier post, “Africa: Part One,” was inspired by Grassroot Soccer (GRS) and listed important, memorable books set in Africa.  GRS uses the game of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV and create an AIDS free generation, focusing most of its work in Africa.

Now, in an attempt to better understand the AIDS epidemic which has so effected that continent, we recommend two books that angle in on this devastating disease.  Please note that in the titles we’ve paired below, AIDS is depicted as an illness afflicting homosexual white men and both are set (or begin) several decades ago in the United States.

The typical HIV/AIDS patient today is very different.  According to the GRS web site (2008 report by UNAIDS):

  • Worldwide, 33 million men, women, and children are infected with HIV.
  • 2.7 million became newly infected in 2007 (roughly 7400 every day)
  • 45% of all new infections occur among 15-24 year-olds.
  • Less than 40% of young people have comprehensive HIV/AIDS knowledge.
  • 67% of people living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

But no matter who HIV/AIDS afflicts and no matter where they live, the disease and its effects on sufferers and their families remains the same. We believe the following selections will help the reader better understand AIDS and the history of the epidemic through though the lens of literature.

In One Person by John Irving (May 2012) – There are books that you read that are just great stories and keep you turning pages because it is important to discover what happens next.  There are books that while you are reading them remind you of places you have been and people you have encountered.  There are books that remind you people can be amazing, and that progress in improving the way humans treat one another is possible.  There are books that inspire you to ponder what you can do to help the world be a better place.  There are books that illustrate the power of literature to make one think.  This book did all of these things for me.

The story of William/Bill Abbot/Dean, a boy growing up in a rural Vermont town housing an all-boys academy, having “crushes on all the wrong people” is a novel at its best.  Narrated by a 70-ish year old Bill, as he reflects upon his life, the plot covers his life from his early teens to present day.  You watch him navigate high school, live as an adult, and learn about the mysteries surrounding his birth.  Warning –the mysteries about and the coincidences surrounding his father are among the weaker plot points in the novel; so please breeze by them in order not to miss the power of this book.

I enjoyed most of the characters populating this novel, even those of a less savory nature.  I smiled at the fact that great literature (i.e., Madame Bovary, The Tempest, works by James Baldwin and the Bronte sisters) is an important aspect of the plot.  And yes, because of Bill’s bi-sexual identity and his multiple partners, and the span the novel encompasses, you know from the first page that AIDS will impact his life as an adult in the 1980s. That knowledge does not ruin the plot and the pages dealing with that epidemic are among the most powerful in this book.  To say much more would give too much away.  Please read it an enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

And the Band Played On: Politics, people and the AIDS epidemic by Randy Shilts (1987) – When first published, this book dramatically changed and framed how AIDS was discussed.   Shilts’ expose revealed why AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked while most institutions ignored or denied the threat, and he is often harsh in his reporting.  While the data and the portraits of the AIDS epidemic differ tremendously today (e.g, infected women; the epidemic on the African continent), this powerful story of AIDS when it became part of the US conversation about sexually transmitted diseases, remains important.  A 20th anniversary edition (2007) is available, and a movie based upon the book can be viewed on DVD. ~ Lisa Christie

BONUS PICK: For those readers looking for insight into the epidemic today, our friend Rob Adams at Grassroot Soccer also recommends Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin. This book discusses how Africa became the epicenter of this disease and why the implications for the world are vast. Neither Lisa has yet finished his recommendation, but we are grateful we have started this important book.

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On April 30th, we held our first “Pages in the Pub,”  an event designed to bring together independent booksellers, literary bloggers, public librarians, and book lovers for an evening of talking about great titles. We gathered at a local inn, sipped wine, and turned pages all with the goal of raising money for our public library.

We are pleased to inform you that we oversold and packed guests into The Norwich Inn that evening. More than 60 people attended (even though we had limited it to 50)  and we raised over $500 for the Norwich Pubic Library.

Presenters for our first “Pages in the Pub” included: Superb Norwich Bookstore Booksellers, Carin Pratt and Penny McConnel, Lucinda Walker – the amazing director of the Norwich Public Library - and our own Lisa Cadow of The Book Jam, with bonus books presented by Lisa Christie, also of The Book Jam, whose official role during the evening was to act as moderator.

For those of you unable to join us, a recap of the selections from each presenter is included below – along with a their own six word review. Why six words? Because we wanted to just whet your appetites and then have you research and read more for yourselves. Plus if we went any longer, we’d run out of space!

And don’t worry, if you must have more information right away, each title is linked to an independent bookstore’s review.

Carin Pratt

Carin, a new Vermont resident, sells books at the Norwich Bookstore after serving for twenty years as Executive Producer of CBS’s Face the Nation - yes, THAT Face the Nation.  We think that’s mighty impressive – but more importantly,  she’s a lovely person who we are privledged to know.  And, we really enjoyed her picks for Pages in the Pub.:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life death and hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo – nonfiction (2012) – Mumbai slums tragedy. Not beautiful. Great.

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw – fiction (2012) – Girl dies. How do survivors deal?

The Obriens by Peter Behrens – fiction (2012) – Man, marriage, family. Compelling, tragic saga.

Lisa Cadow

Lisa is one of the Lisas behind the Book Jam blog. She is also the founder and Chief Crepe officer of Vermont Crepe and Waffle, which is now moving into its busy fifth season with the opening of our local farmers markets.  Her crepes are fantastic and her book picks are superb and diverse – enjoy!

Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka fiction (2012)- Wartime Japanese Brides. New Lives. Poetic.

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson –fiction (2011) – Despite turmoil, Nigerian girl learns midwifery.

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (2012) – Female Restaurateur with MFA writes spicy memoir.

Lucinda Walker

Lucinda is the talented  librarian for our town of Norwich.  She is truly a treasure and we are so glad she offered her gifts to our town.   Her picks are fun and thoughtful. Have a great time reading them.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechtel – nonfiction (2006) – What makes our parents tick? Graphic.

The Tower, the Zoo & the Tortoise by Julia Stuart – fiction (2010) – Quirky and sweet. A love story.

Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham- fiction (1944) – Bohemian, Post WWI, Paris, Soul-Searching & Snobs.

Penny McConnel

Penny is the co-founder and co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore.  When the Lisas of the Book Jam grow up, we want to be her.  She chose “oldie but goodies” to discuss. So pick up her selections and enjoy some contemporary classics.

Disturbances in the Field by Lynn Sharon Schwartz – fiction (1983) – Philosophy, friends, music, marriage, NYC.

Stoner by John Williams – fiction (1965) – Beautifully written life of sensitive professor.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd –fiction (2003) – Fictionalized biography of interesting worldly man.

BONUS PICKS – because you can never have too many good books

Lisa Cadow’s bonus round

Stones in the River by Ursula Hegi – fiction (1996) – Nazis. Outsider heroine. German village. Astounding.

Lisa Christie

Lisa is the other Lisa of the Book Jam. She was the founding Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and subsequently served as Executive Director of Everybody Wins! USA, placing children’s literacy dear to her heart.  Her picks are eclectic and involve places far away.  Happy travels.

In One Person by John Irving – fiction (2012) – Bisexual boy. Colorful family. Life unfolds.

The Terror by  Dan Simmonsmystery (2007)- Real Arctic Shipwreck. Everyone Dies. Why?

Vida by Patricia Engel – connected short stories (2010) – Colombian immigrants in Jersey. Teen matures.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “Three Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam in the week leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.  While most of the authors will be featured on our special 3 questions page, once each month we will spotlight ONE of the many amazing authors visiting the Norwich Bookstore here on our main page.

We are pleased to welcome Carole DeSanti, the author of The Unruly Passions of Eugenia R,  to The Book Jam.  This historical novel has been a work-in-progress for ten years as Ms. DeSanti’s work as an editior for authors such as Dorothy Alison and Terri McMillan occupies her full time. The Unruly Passions follows the life – and passions – of Eugenie, a young girl from the Pyrenees who is lured to 19th century Paris by her nobleman lover.  When she finds herself pregnant, sixteen, and abandoned by her child’s father, Eugenie must chose between starvation and working at the illicit “Les Deux Soeurs” brothel. And social upheaval in the form of the Franco-Prussian War is soon to follow. Ms. DeSanti will be reading from her book at 7 pm on May 9th at the Norwich Bookstore.  Call 802-649-1114 to reserve your spot.

1.What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time was the first piece of fiction that startled me into realizing, as a young girl, that we could travel back into history.  That novel  brought the past alive  and changed my view of the world forever.  Then, The Brontës; but especially the relationship between Jane Eyre (which I also read when I was young) and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which taught me that you could go back IN to literature, as a creator.  I’m counting them as one so I can mention Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, which knocked me over when I read it for the first time.

2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Emile Zola, provided he was in a relaxed mood and we could do it in Aix-en-Provence or Paris.  He was a fierce realist, a fanatical researcher, and he believed society could be changed by literature.  (We consider that a romantic opinion today, of course.)    Eugénie R. is in many ways a response to his novel Nana, because with all of his research and realism, he could not give a woman who lived as Nana did — as a Paris courtesan — an inner life and an ability to reflect.  I want to ask him why not, so that might lead us into a heated argument! He also worked in book publishing, as I do, and I’d love to compare notes.

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Magic: A history of its rites, rituals and mysteries by Eliphas Levi — a classic book on the occult published in 1913; an ARC (advance reading copy) of Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night, Property by Valerie Martin; and The Food Matters Cookbook, Mark Bittman’s new volume on healthy eating, various tomes on gardening (as it’s spring) and David Cordingly’s book on seafaring women – Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors’ Wives.   There are more on this toppling pile but I’ll stop there!

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