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Archive for the ‘Just the “facts”’ Category

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 “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore.  Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days 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 and read their books.

This post features Marianne Szegedy-Maszak author of I Kiss Your Hands: Hearts, Souls, and Wars in Hungary, her first book.  Ms. Szegedy-Maszak’s journalism career has spanned over twenty-five years and has included covering the collapse of communism, the Republican Revolution, 9/11 and social policy for the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Harpers Bazaar, and many more.

Ms. Szegedy-Maszak will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 9th to discuss her work. Reservations are recommended. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to reserve your seat.

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

Always difficult to narrow things down to threes, when there is such a rich and wonderful collection of influences. One of the first and most influential books for me was Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills. It was a book that grew out of his brilliant coverage in Esquire of Nixon’s campaign and I was a senior in high school when I read it and at that moment knew I wanted to be a journalist. The depth of insight, the richness of his writing, and the way he brought his formidable intellect to bear on covering this tragic president– before Watergate– was astonishing.

I remember reading Speak Memory by Nabokov, a memoir of his life in Czarist Russia right at the twilight of an era, with a little notebook and every once in a while I would just copy a sentence or a phrase. The details and the fluidity of memory that he captured by focusing on the most minute, superficially trivial details taught me that in memoir, it is so often about the trees, not the forest.

My Antonia by Willa Cather is a book that always brings a little lump in my throat when I think about it. Cather wrote with such astonishing simplicity in the voice of a young man, a slightly unreliable narrator, who nonetheless kept me suspended between his internal life and the world all around him. She had such total confidence as a writer, every word rings true, nothing is extraneous from physical to emotional details. After the more rococo prose of Wills and Nabokov, Cather is the cool drink of water.

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

I struggled to avoid being a Rebecca Mead copy-cat, but unfortunately I have to admit, that I would love to have a cup of coffee (or perhaps tea, or perhaps a good strong drink) with Mary Ann Evans, also known as George Eliot.  I loved Middlemarch, of course, always preferred her to Jane Austen (whose charms, I fear, elude me), but it is not just because Eliot is such a brilliant writer, or because she is so deftly political, but because she could be such an expert guide to a life lived both conventionally and very much on the margins.

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

I was looking at that cluttered table and am a bit embarrassed by how many are there. The books on my nightstand are both reproaches and thrilling invitations. In no particular order (you can imagine the stack):

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Over three Saturdays this spring in an event called Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library - our local library, will host dinners in their homes to raise money for our superb librarians and the building they inhabit.  Each dinner is based on a book the hosts selected as the theme for their evening.  To add excitement to the event, dinner guests choose their dinner assignment by the book selections — the location and hosts are revealed only after the books and all the guests have been matched.

Photo: You're invited to a literary dinner! "Book" your table here: http://tablesofcontent.weebly.com

How does this relate to books for you to read?  Well, the event offers a diverse group of hosts, and wow did they provide an eclectic selection of books to read.  There is great fiction, some nonfiction sports books, a memoir or two, even Plato.  We realized that the books they selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your reading preferences.  So, we asked the hosts to give us their selections, with a brief review of why they picked the book that they did. And now, we share their selections and rationals with you. Happy reading!

Themes for Saturday April 5

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2004) - Nothing piques an appetite like “an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.”  From the opening scene in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” to the dungeons of Montjuic, The Shadow of the Wind twists and turns through post civil war Barcelona.  Join us in a dimly lit cafe off Las Ramblas where the Catalans hold court and partake of the delicacies and intoxicants of a dangerous and mysterious world.

“Beans Green and Yellow” a Poem by Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver (2011) - Reading Mary Oliver’s “Beans Green and Yellow” suggested a dinner menu for the “Tables of Content” event at our house. Beyond that, though, we envision that an evening with people who enjoy Oliver’s poetry will be fun, relaxed, and inspirational.  We encourage dinner guests to bring along a personal favorite if they’d like.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009) – In rural Mississippi 1962, three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step. This book was loved by all members of our family. A great summer read or beach book. We will toast the coming of summer and indulge in southern style cuisine, but there will NOT be chocolate pie for dessert!

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (1990) - A Year In Provence is the true story of how a London advertising executive and his wife moved to a remote village in south-eastern France. The book documents their attempts to renovate an old farmhouse, but the heart of the story – and the inspiration for our dinner – is all the long lazy meals under the Provençal sun. Think romantic hill villages, cobbled market squares, fields of purple lavender, a canvas full of irises, scents of wild thyme and orange blossom, fat black olives, red tomatoes, and starry, starry nights.

My Life in France by Julia Child & Alex Prud’Homme (2006) - My Life in France is a delightful and delicious account of Julia Child’s love affair with French cuisine and culture.  Julia broke away from her narrow conservative upbringing when she moved to Paris with her new urbane husband.  There, she fell in love with all things French.  With grit, determination and an indomitable spirit, she recounts her tale of learning to speak the language and cook the food.  You can almost taste each dish as she lovingly describes it.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking, originally rejected for publication, took her eight years to complete.  But, American cooks lovingly embraced and emulated her.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (2012) - This story begins in the early 1960′s in a small, isolated town along the Italian coast near Genoa, where a young innkeeper looks up from his work to see a beautiful American actress approaching his dock by boat. Direct from the scandal-laden set of “Cleopatra”, she was sent by the film’s heartless producer for reasons that slowly become apparent. Spanning 50 years with stops in Edinburgh, Hollywood and the Pacific Northwest, the author spins a tale of love and following one’s dreams.  The book describes coastal Italian comfort food — simple, fresh and slow — this will be the inspiration for our meal.

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger (2003) - This non-fiction book is so fascinating it’s been made into a movie, a television series, almost another movie and inspired legions of cult-like followers.  In it, a Texas high school football team is challenged as their season careens toward “state.” We find that nothing in Texas is as important as high school football, where the players are gods, the schools are “football factories”, and the coaches are above reproach – until they lose.  At our dinner, you get all that, a Texas-sized helping of barbecue brisket, and other “only in Texas” foods! (This BBQ will have vegetarian options.)

Heidi by Johanna Spyri (1880) - Do you remember falling into the pages of Heidi, dreaming of the golden cheese grandfather would melt over toast in the fireplace of his mountain hut? If so, this literary evening is for you. Please join us for traditional Swiss raclette, freshly baked Fladen (Swiss apple tart) and Sven’s Schoggikuchen (Wet Chocolate Cake).  A real, live yodeler has promised to make an appearance to send out his call over the Vermont hills and valleys. Please feel free to wear your lederhosen or just come as you are.

Books for Saturday April 26

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2009) – This is a “Song of New York City” — the high, low, rich and poor, black, white and Hispanic. The author wanted to transport even those who have never been to NYC to that fabulous city.  The dinner? A NYC style one, perhaps with an Irish influence.

Life Is Meals: A Food Lovers Book of Days by James & Kay Salter (2006) – We chose Life Is Meals : A Food Lover’s Book Of Days because it is a wonderful book about eating and celebrating food and friends. Whether or not we serve something directly from the book remains to be seen, but we promise a delicious time.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010) - “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”  – Jonathan Franzen, Freedom.  There’s so much to discuss in this book…from the complicated and often unlikable characters to the detailed examination of life in America in 2010.  While reading Freedom, I had to retreat to my bedroom to read, ignoring my children, my spouse and even the poor dog so I could tear through all 608 pages.  If you loved Freedom, or better yet, if you hated it join us for a lively discussion of this ambitious novel.

Symposium by Plato (c. 385-380 BCE) - Come eat food appropriate for love, and discuss this ancient version of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking”.

Books for Saturday May 10

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon. We chose Death at La Fenice because Donna Leon portrays Venice in such wonderful detail in each of her books, always providing readers with a map so that we can follow Inspector Brunetti as he solves the crime.  Also, his wife Paola is a splendid cook and we will try to recreate one of her mouth-watering Venetian meals for our dinner.

One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, An Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season by Chris Ballard (2012) - I chose this book because I always read a baseball book in the spring.  For me, the last days of winter are agonizing, but reading about baseball always makes me think of summer, childhood, innocence…… and the heroes of my youth.  So much of sports conversation now is about cultural issues and how they fit into sports, and vice versa — will a gay player be welcome in the NFL?  Sports, especially baseball with its special place in our nation’s history, help us relate to one another in a different way, and perhaps can bridge gaps that otherwise wouldn’t be bridged. If there is a theme to this dinner, it’s not just this specific book, but the effect that baseball and other sports can have upon us as we enter the second half of our lives.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2010) - Hunger Games is a fun, fast-paced read that leaves some thought-provoking questions about the future of our society.  Most importantly, this book features fabulously extravagant food, drinks and table settings.

Hungry yet?

For those of you near Norwich in April and May, please join us for these fun and book-infused evenings. For more details and to purchase your tickets, visit the Norwich Public Library or call them at 802-649-1184.

If you can’t join these dinners, we hope you can enjoy this extensive and eclectic list of fifteen books to read.

BONUS: For people attending the dinners, if you wish to read the book before the dinner and you purchase the books from the Norwich Bookstore, the store will generously donate a portion of those sales (both online and in person) to the library as part of this event.  To activate this donation, you only need to indicate when you make your purchase that you are attending one of the dinners.

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The Book Jam is of two minds about African-American history month.  On the one hand, any excuse to delve further into books by amazing authors who are African-American (see Toni Morrison) is a reason to rejoice.  On the other hand, we do not want to seem belittling by focusing on African-American history just because it is February.  And, since one of our sons (who technically is Latino) is identifying as a Black boy, we are especially cognizant of the complicated issues this month brings to light.

Martin Luther King Jr.Civil Rights MovementBlack History FactsAfrican-American Soldiers in the Civil WarHarriet TubmanMarch on WashingtonFreedom Rides

We also recognize that as white women, we can not ever know what it is like to be Black in the USA.  However, we believe as recent well-publicized research about reading has shown, good fiction has the power to transform and teach.  So in that light, and, since The Book Jam often features books by or about African-Americans and/or Africa, we are choosing to look at February as another excuse to highlight more great fiction and nonfiction options by and about African-Americans. May we all learn something. 

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid (2014) – I sincerely hope any Oprah nay-sayers are ready to overlook her pick of this book for her book club.  If you dismiss this novel just because she chose it, you will miss out on a great story. Besides, we honestly believe that any book that helps you understand the day-to-day plight of African-American slaves and the forming of two important American abolitionists is worth your precious reading time.  The narration mostly takes place in Charleston, SC and alternates between the voices of a young woman slave owner and of her young slave.  The prose by the best selling author of The Secret Life of Bees keeps you turning the pages, the characters are interesting, and few of the relationships are simple – which makes you think.  What I most loved about this book — both of the narrators are based upon actual people from history. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (2013) – Yes, that John Lewis, the Congressman and the man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has (with two collaborators) written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Told in flashback as a story relayed to two young constituents who came to visit his Capital Hill offices on the morning of Barack Obama’s first inauguration, this book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and into his student activist days in Nashville.  The pictures perfectly explore how his life must have felt at the time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  According to the authors, the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March proves as inspiring to future leaders.  We are so glad we found this book (thanks to our town’s children’s librarian), and are truly looking forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations Edited by Retha Powers and Henry Louis Gates (2013) – Perfect for anyone interested in history, famous individuals or words of wisdom.  Five thousand (although we took the editors’ word for that number and did not count them) quotes are pulled — covering such diverse time frames as Ancient Egypt, American slavery, the Civil Rights Era, Apartheid, and today. With a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and passages from authors, artists, scientists, philosophers, theologians, activists, politicians, this volume places quotes from Aesop’s Fables and the Holy Bible beside the words of Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou and Jay-Z. How many books can claim that? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

And yes, we reviewed these last year, but we believe they are worth mentioning again -

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – it makes you laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Bradley (2011) – A book for children and the adults in their lives.  In this book, three young slaves, two of them President Jefferson’s own children fathered with his slave Sally Hemings, tell their stories of life at Monticello.  Their voices highlight the contradiction between slavery and freedom, and illustrate the USA’s struggles while the Founding Fathers still lived and worked.  As such, the USA’s history unfolds from a typically unseen perspective. ~ Lisa Christie

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