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HOT BOOKS

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As a very special treat, we asked some of our favorite readers – the superb booksellers of the Norwich Bookstore – to choose just ONE book that they believe every one needs to read RIGHT NOW. (The “just one book” part was difficult, and you will see that one of them failed completely.)

We love the list their picks generated, and think you will as well (at least we hope so). So, now that Memorial Day has ended, go ahead — start your summer reading. (So you know a bit more about the people guiding these selections, the selectors’ bios follow this list.)

This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary — I have loved the other three books that this author/illustrator duo created—but I fell head over heels for this one. I don’t know if it was seeing Sadie in a box, on a boat, hammering, wearing a fox mask, sleeping in a blanket fort or looking for her wings that felt most like a connection to my younger self. I do know that reading the lines – “A perfect day is spent with friends. Some of them live on her street, and some of them live in the pages of a book” – made me want to give a copy to every family I know. ~ Picked by Beth

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Towes — This award-winning book by Canadian author Miriam Toews is at the same time very funny and and heartbreaking.  It’s the tale of two sisters, one a renowned pianist.  This is a story about suicide, but also about resilience, the use of biting wit as a coping device, and love. Beautifully written with an original voice you won’t forget.  Remarkable. ~ Picked by Carin

The ONE best thing… is when I walk into a bookstore and find not just one but THREE of my favorite mystery writers with new titles on the shelves.  Just in time for decadent sunny afternoons on the porch, (of which admittedly I have relatively few with my three young boys running around), I have the great fortune to pass the time with my dear literary friends:  Bruno, Chief of Police; Maisie Dobbs; and Mary Russel & Sherlock Holmes.  With the rugged Bruno I plunge into international intrigue and unravel ethnic tensions in the south of France; with the introspective and observant Maisie, (who shockingly drinks more wine and coffee in this edition rather than solid English tea!), I journey to Gibraltar to discover a world of spies and hidden identities; and with the dynamic Russel & Homes I find myself immersed in the world of Japanese samurai and ninjas, touched with the simple elegance of haiku. All of these new titles add depth and pleasure to three series that I have grown to love. If you have been eagerly awaiting new installments, then your wait is over!  However,  if you’ve yet to discover these series, go out and start with the first of each.  I envy the discovery, and friendship, that awaits you. ~ Picked by Katie

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman — A haunting and beautiful portrait of a bright, artistic fifteen-year-old boy and his experience with schizophrenia. Magically fantastical and hauntingly realistic scenes carry the reader into this scary and all-to-common other world. Based on his son’s story, Shusterman gives voice to amazing internal and external dialogues. Reading this novel helped me form a deeper understanding of this condition that affects many. ~ picked by Liza

The Book of Aron by Jim Shephard – If you can stomach a bit of heartbreak and devastation in your spring/summer reading, Shepard’s book is worth it. Within the first few pages, I fell in love with little Aron despite (or maybe because of) his troubled mind. He’s fragile and yet has grit, which he will need at Treblinka. ~ picked by Meghan

A Slant Of Light by Jeffrey Lent — This is a stunningly beautiful book; both in the writing and the narrative. For this his newest novel Lent returns to  the Civil War of his very popular “In The Fall”. A farmer arrives home from the war to find his wife gone off with his hired hand and at the end of the day two people are killed. and another lies badly injured. While this may not sound like a plot that makes you want to read the book, do not hesitate. This is a book of luminosity rarely found in fiction these days. Lent’s use of language will astonish you and at the end, you will be sad to turn the last page. ~ picked by Penny

The Plover by Brian Doyle — This delightful book is reminiscent of The Life of Pi.  Other reviewers are reminded of the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the passion of Walt Whitman. It is a novel filled with adventure and misadventure, and surprising and endearing, even dangerous, moments that make it a page turner and a joy to read. Doyle also invites the reader to deliberate on the philosophical angles of a life’s journey: Declan O’Donnell is done with humanity and is setting off  into the great blue sea world in his patch-worked boat, The Plover, to pursue solitude and a life apart.  However, the Universe has other plans. Enter characters and personalities, both human and animal, that interrupt his solace and eventually, completely change his course. The telling is sometimes a poetic ramble, often humorous, but always moving, unpredictably like the tides. ~ picked by Sara

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Bios of our superb selectors

  • Beth — Beth Reynolds has been a bookseller for 20-plus years, 12 of them at the Norwich Bookstore. She spends her weeks in the children’s section of the Norwich Public Library, but on Saturdays you can find her here, helping a child find the perfect birthday present or recommending books to adults looking to get lost in a good read.
  • Carin – Carin Pratt moved to Strafford, Vermont, three years ago from Washington D.C. where she worked at CBS News for 27 years, the last 20 as Executive Producer of Face the Nation. Her husband, John Echeverria, is a professor at Vermont Law School, and she has two grown sons. She likes to hike, cook, garden, bike, horseback ride. She reads a lot.
  • Katie – Katie Kitchel has rejoined the Norwich Bookstore staff on a very part-time basis as she has her hands full with three young boys. She is a Dartmouth graduate, a trained mediator, and lives with her husband Davis here in Norwich.
  • Liza – Liza Bernard has had many careers including weaver, cookbook writer, art show director, graphic designer, and bookseller. All of these taught her the different skills needed to do the many things necessary to keep the Norwich Bookstore afloat. She lives in Pomfret with husband Brian and daughter Rachel (when she is home from college).
  • Meghan – The newest member of the Norwich Bookstore team, Meghan Oliver has taken on an eclectic list of responsibilities, including the store’s PR and working bookstore events. Her free time is spent reading, birding and tending to her needy beagle.
  • Penny – Penny McConnel has worked in bookstores for over 30 years. She lives in Norwich with her husband, Jim, and Penny spends as much time as she can reading, gardening, spending time with Jim, and learning Italian.
  • Sara – An eclectic reader, fabulous dresser and a fun mom, Sara Trimmer has been selling books to readers for years.

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THANK YOU and HAPPY SUMMER READING!

As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, The Book Jam has 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. (We have a rotating list of six possible questions to ask just to keep things interesting.) 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, will encourage readers to attend these special author events, and ultimately, will inspire some great reading.
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This “3 questions” features Nina MacLaughlin and her book Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter. In this book, she discusses the process of applying for a job as a carpenter, despite her only qualification being she was a classics major, and the learning that took place as a result of this major shift in her life.  The history of tools, the virtues of wood varieties, and the wisdom of Ovid are interwoven into this moving story of a person finding her passion. Nina MacLaughlin grew up in Massachusetts. She earned a B.A. in English and Classical Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and worked for about eight years at the Boston Phoenix, the award-winning alternative newsweekly. In 2008, she quit her journalism job to work as a carpenter’s assistant. Her essays and reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Believer, the Boston Globe, the Rumpus, the Millions, Bookslut, and many other places. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Ms. MacLaughlin will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, May 20th to discuss Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or emailinfo@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.
1. What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?
Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, for the quest, for the adventure, for being open to mystery. Mattheissen is someone who was searching, and his boundless curiosity is something that I admire in the most major way. Anne Carson’s Plainwater, for its layers, for its non-categorizability (poems, essays, fragments), for its passion, for the author’s evident love of language, for its wrestling with pain and love and place and words. She pushes boundaries — of form, of language — that I wish I were able to push. And, cheating a little here: Loren Eiseley’s The Unexpected Universe and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. For their close attention to the natural world, for their lyricism, for the authors’ curiosity, for their awe and their infectious enthralledness of existing on this strange planet.

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2. What author would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Anne Carson is a writer, poet, essayist, translator, classics scholar, professor. She writes like no one writes and has a peculiar brain and it seems like she is someone who is in love with words. I would love to sit and talk with her. The thought of having a coffee with her is amazing. And also terrifying. I suspect I’d be a dry-mouthed tongue-tied imbecile in her presence and would probably spill my coffee all over her for nerves.

3. What was the last book that kept you up all night reading?

The physical nature of the carpentry work usually means that I’m asleep after a few pages, regardless of a book’s hold on me. But the most memorable reading experience for me in the last few years was Volume 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series. I started it and could not stop and the whole of a weekend was taken up with this book. The rare best place that books can take you is that you inhabit another person’s life; such was the case with this book for me. I’m relieved I read him before the fame and attention surrounded his work as I think that might’ve corrupted the experience. The subsequent volumes have not had the same impact, but this initial one knocked my goddamn socks off. I’ll also mention Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. Though it didn’t keep me awake, it is the only book that I have read the last page of and immediately started again on page one (which has happened three times now — each time I read this book, I read it twice).

imgresAfter our last post, a few subscribers wrote us looking for “happy” stories. They were clear these should not be poorly written tales or romance novels or self-help, but just great books that as you close their last pages you feel good about the world.

Since these requests came from parents (each mentioned they read with their kids), we picked “happy books” as our theme for our annual Mother’s Day gift guide.  Don’t worry, if you are not a Mom or someone in need of a Mother’s Day gift for the moms in your life, these are all very good books we frequently recommend to many readers with great results. So, please pick one (or two) for yourself and/or your mom, and enjoy a well-told tale that will leave you feeling happy.

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Books That Just Leave You Feeling Good When You Close Their Pages

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda (2007) . Truly an original, uplifting (though it may not seem so at first!) book set in modern-day France and translated beautifully. It is a story of friendship and connection despite the busy life that swirls all around us. And, most importantly for this post, it leaves you feeling good about life. Basically, who would not want to spend time in a Parisian flat with memorable characters? We promise you will enjoy every moment you spend with this novel. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (they grew up with a Shakespeare professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to quote the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue, but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, but most of all it is the sisters’ love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life in 1960s Britian through the eyes of a gorgeous girl who just wants to be funny.  Mr. Hornsby delivers in this tale of a group of people (two male writers, a male producer and a funny girl) who meet and create an iconic BBC sitcom, and then must deal with all the fame that it brings. Fans of “I Love Lucy” or BBC sitcoms will be charmed, as will fans for Mr. Hornby’s humor and wit.

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is best known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straight forward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. We think you will just have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2015) – As people who love bookstores and booksellers, it is hard not to like this charming novel about a bookseller and his store, the love found when a baby is left among his shelves, and the love life of one of his publishing reps. We recommend this to anyone in need of a story that leaves you smiling, or for anyone needing a book to give someone who loves a sentimental tale (e.g., your Mom). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

A Little Less “Happy”, but Truly Great Books 

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2008) – Many characters intersect in this tale of New York and love and life and redemption. Beginning in August 1974 as a man walks a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers, this ambitious and well done novel follows the stories of many New Yorkers, including, but not limited to, an artist, an Irish monk, a group of mothers mourning their military sons, and a prostitute. This won the National Book Award, please read it to discover why for yourself. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer.  One all male book club declared it led to their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Unusual and Interesting Books – Fiction and Non-fiction

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – 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 – this book makes you laugh out loud. ~ Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – This saga, written in gorgeous/lyrical prose, with a bit of magical realism, shows a history of Mexico that until this book was unknown to me. Reach for it when you are looking for a reason to sit down with an engrossing book for a few days. ~ Lisa Christie

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WISE Books

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Rolling Stone’s article about University of Virginia and the subsequent retraction, recent news out of neighboring Dartmouth College about hazing, and the fact that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month have us pondering how to have discussions about sexual assault, domestic violence, and abuse in manner that proves helpful.

Then, since when we think, we think of books, we once again started considering books that have helped us ponder sexual assault and domestic violence issues. So today, we highlight three great works of fiction that on some level deal with sexual abuse or domestic violence. You should keep in mind that sexual assault is not what we would say these books are about if you asked us to summarize their plots in a sentence or two, but they all help you think about abuse and its aftermath in ways that we hope allow all of us to be better informed.

We also use this post as an excuse highlight and link to WISE – a superb resource for those of you who may need help or need to find help for others in your life.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – We predicted it months ago – THIS BOOK IS BIG.  We continue to describe it as the next Gone Girl (from a British perspective), but we will not say much more as almost any description of the plot will ruin the experience of reading it. But obviously our inclusion of this book in this post means that part of the plot revolves around domestic abuse. Read it before the inevitable movie based upon its prose arrives in a theater near you. And, keeping with this theme, read it because it is a page-turner that allows you to think about the very important topic of assault and its aftermath.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (2015) – Rape is a devastating event for the victim, and it also affects the community in which the rape occurs. The rape of 15-year-old Lindy, during the summer of 1989 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, begins this novel — a novel narrated by the 14-year-old boy across the street whose love for Lindy outlines his entire teen existence. With often heart-rending prose, Mr. Walsh creates a tale in which narrative, memory, forgiveness, and love are as palatable as the Southern landscape this novel inhabits. And, he shows how all those items shape a life.

We are sorry this next book is not available until September, but list it here as we don’t want you to miss this well written debut, a precautionary tale of the residual dangers of domestic violence.

Drowning is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley (available September 2015) – Olivia’s mom died days after giving birth to her. Olivia’s best friend’s father has unraveled with the help of endless bottles of booze. Her on-again off-again boyfriend does not understand her. And, her closest girlfriend is trying to live her life while dealing with a mother who is both absent and an addict. That is just the backstory; the novel takes off when Olivia’s best friend and his father have a disagreement ending in death. Sound depressing? Perhaps, but somehow Ms. Stanley uses all four characters to create a story of friendship, loyalty and small town life that will stay with you long after the last page is finished. Confession – I stayed up all night to finish this superb YA novel.

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Is there a better way to spend a night than dining with fellow bibliophiles discussing a book you’ve all read and loved – with dishes and delicacies designed to compliment the book? This is exactly what happens during a spring fundraiser in Vermont. On this delicious evening, participants and hosts literally eat their favorite words.

On both April 25 and May 2, in the second iteration of Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library will serve dinners in their homes to raise money for our fabulous librarians and the facility they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts have selected to be the theme for their evening. To add intrigue and an element of the unknown, paying dinner guests choose which dinner to attend by picking the book of their choice. The location and hosts are only revealed after the books and all the guests have been matched.

How does this relate to books for you to read? The event is hosted by a diverse group of readers, and wow did they provide an eclectic selection of books again this year. They selected great fiction, off-the-beaten-path nonfiction, a British mystery or two, and even a travel guide. The books selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your literary preference.

We asked this year’s dinner hosts to provide a brief review of why they picked their title; and, we share their selections and thoughts with you below. Happy reading! For those of you near the Upper Valley, we hope you can join us at one of these delicious Tables of Content.

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The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2012) – Climb out your window and disappear!  In the style of Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, we promise an unpredictable and playful evening.  This “mordantly funny and loopily freewheeling novel about aging disgracefully” will provide the perfect springboard for a night of spinning yarns and celebrating our days.  Slippers encouraged.

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887) – A Study In Scarlet is the book that introduced Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the world, and launched a whole genre of detective fiction. Come along and share a Victorian English dinner while we discuss the great detective, his various TV and movie incarnations, and anything else that comes up – perhaps other great fictional detectives past and present.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – Engage all of your senses as we seek the unseen world.  We will taste France and discuss chance encounters that change lives.  We might grapple with how time, technology, obsession, or risk connect us all with invisible threads.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – Join us for an evening of music and food inspired by Ann Patchett’s brilliant novel ‘Bel Canto’.  In the book, a bunch of strangers are assembled for a celebratory birthday party somewhere in South America when a band of terrorists interrupt the festivities. With lyrical writing that intrigues and captivates, Ms. Patchett explores how different characters react to prolonged captivity and how romance and compassion can arise from tense circumstances.  We promise we won’t hold you hostage.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – A thriller-page turner. Neither my husband nor I could put it down.“City of Thieves” follows a character named Lev Beniov, the son of a revered Soviet Jewish poet who was “disappeared” in the Stalinist purges, as Lev and an accomplice carryout an impossible assignment during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad. Before Lev begins to tell his story, however, a young Los Angeles screenwriter named David visits his grandfather in Florida, pleading for his memories of the siege. A Spring dinner that promises no borscht.

The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby (2006) – We’ve all been raised with a few ground rules of etiquette: say please and thank you; don’t chew with your mouth open; and don’t ever talk about politics or religion at the dinner table! We’re inviting you to break the rules and to join us for an evening of cross-cultural food and meaningful conversation inspired by The Faith Club. This compelling book tells the story of three mothers, their three religions, and their quest to understand one another. Amidst challah and couscous, shish kabobs and hot cross buns, we’re looking forward to tasty treats and great conversations!

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – Rachel takes the same commuter train everyday to and from London. The train stops briefly beside a row of suburban houses that allows her to see the same couple day after day. She even fantasizes that she knows them and gives them names. Then one day she looks at their houseand sees something shocking, and her whole life spins out of control. This book speeds along like a commuter train. You can’t wait to turn the next page. And you can be sure to start our evening we will be serving Rachel’s favorite, gin and tonic in a can.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934) – What could be more fun than fussy Hercule Poirot traveling first class on the Orient Express?  Join us for an elegant evening to celebrate this classic Agatha Christie novel.  Who did it?

Rick Steves’ Greece (2013) – Have you been to Greece or is it on your bucket list? Either way, your hosts will help you enjoy an evening of conversation, connection, and good food, all inspired by the guidebook of that preeminent traveler Rick Steves, who notes that the Greeks were responsible for democracy, mathematics, medicine, theater, and astronomy, among many other accomplishments. Please bring along your own Greek travel treasures and mementos, your stories, and your questions—or your copy of Oedipus Rex! You may want to sample a traditional retsina or a glass of ouzo, but Greece is also well-known for some lovely, simple wines that are sure to please.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011) – Join us for a night inspired by the exhilaration, frustration, inspiration and growth that comes with coming of age as a twenty-something in New York City.  We’ll enjoy some jazz as we kick off the night but keep the music evolving to match our mood over the evening, all to accompany a NYC-inspired menu full of flavor and flair.  This book read like a crisp, delicious glass of bubbly for me – so there will be plenty of that to accompany our dinnertime discussion and delights. Oh – and we’ll be leaving the fleece, clogs and Upper Valley casual wear in the closet and donning something a bit more fun – we hope you’ll be inspired to have a little fashion fun too.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – While we wish we could discuss Go Set a Watchman, this dinner occurs before its July 14th publication date. So to help us prepare for the prequel/sequel – already a New York Times Best-seller – we will revisit Harper Lee’s amazing novel and eat genuine southern food. Yes, we will open our copies of the Junior League Cookbooks from Memphis, Pensacola and Charleston. Don’t worry, we won’t deep-fry anything – except maybe the cracklin’ bread – but we will show you what southern hospitality entails.

And, just in case you thought this list could not get any better — as an added bonus, the Norwich Bookstore will donate 20% of the purchase price of any of the Tables of Content‘s books to the Norwich Public Library! You need only mention to the bookseller that the book is for Tables of Content. We thank the Norwich Bookstore for their generosity.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, The Book Jam has 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. (We have a rotating list of six possible questions to ask just to keep things interesting.) 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, will encourage readers to attend these special author events, and ultimately, will inspire some great reading.

This “3 questions” features Jeffrey Lent and his latest work A Slant of Light, a novel about love, loss and war, and of theft and revenge. In it, a Civil War veteran returns home to find his wife and hired man missing and his farm in disrepair. A double murder ensues, the repercussions of which drive the narrative. Mr. Lent was born in Vermont and grew up there and in western New York State, on dairy farms. He studied literature and psychology at Franconia College in New Hampshire and SUNY Purchase. His first novel, In the Fall, was a national bestseller and a New York Times Book Review Notable Book for 2000, and remains a Book Jam favorite. His other novels include Lost Nation, A Peculiar Grace, and After You’ve Gone. Lent lives with his wife and two daughters in central Vermont. (Photo of Mr. Lent is by Geoff Hansen.)
Mr. Lent will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 8th to discuss A Slant of Light. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited, and due to the high quality of his work, Mr. Lent consistently packs the house.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.
 
1. What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

Light in August. This was my introduction to Faulkner and his impact is akin to a bomb going off every time I re-read him. True Grit. I read it from the library when it came out. I was in the fifth grade and ordered it at my local bookstore – the first piece of contemporary fiction I bought. Robert Frost. There was a collection of his poetry in the house, growing up. My parents had seen him read at Dartmouth, and he was writing of the world I knew.

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

I’d say Faulkner, but then it wouldn’t be coffee and what would I say? You’re a great writer, Bill? He already knew that. So I’d go to Frost and ask him what impact poultry had upon his poetry, and then I guess all I’d have to do is listen for several hours, which would be a grand thing.

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. The Big Seven by Jim Harrison. In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen, is waiting for me.

 

books-colorful-stackThe Book Jam Lisas have a favorite gift to present when significant events arise in the lives of loved ones (e.g., 10th, 20th, 50th anniversary, or 20th, 40th, 60th birthday). Yes, of course this gift involves books, but the key to this gift resides in the selection. For this gift, you as the giver, select one best selling book from the year of the original event (wedding or birthday), and then one for every subsequent decade, finishing with a book from the year of the current gift giving occasion. We recognize this description may make no sense at all, so we play out two examples below.

Rest assured we have given this gift to many, and it has been LOVED, LOVED, LOVED by recipients everywhere. Bonus for this gift — as you pick titles to give, you will discover some books you missed reading when they were first published, and the stack of great books to read on your own bed side table will grow.

GIFT-GIVING SCENARIO #1 — Your parents/grandparents/neighbors celebrate their 40th (or you celebrate yours)

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Pick #1 is from 1975, the year they married

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurty – Before the Academy award winning movie, there was a novel revolving around two women – Aurora and her daughter Emma, and their struggle to find the courage and humor needed to live through life’s hazards. This is something we are certain any long married couple can relate to.

Pick #2 hails from 1985

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is also a romantic. This book is their story. We think it will be fun for any married couple to read.

Pick #3 was published in 1995

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – Mr. Hornby is reliably funny as an author, and his books almost always inspire a movie that can be watched once you finish the book. In this outing, the life of a record store owner, who spends his life making top five lists (e.g., top 5 Elvis Costello songs), changes a bit when his girlfriend leaves him. He actually finds this a relief as “how can he have a future with a girl with a bad record collection?” Then once single, life with the girlfriend looks so much better. Bonus– the book will make married life look superb for the gift recipients.

Pick #4 is from 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – Nine-year-old Oskar has an urgent mission to find the lock matching a key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11. This task becomes an emotional, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey throughout New York City. 9-11 was a huge event in any marriage that lived through it. This book will help the couple receiving this gift talk about it in a new way.

Pick #5, the final selection is from 2015, the year of this special occasion

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)  – The next Gone Girl (from a British perspective), will make the gift recipients’ own relationship and its endurance seem that much more special. We can not say much more as almost any description of the plot will ruin the experience of reading it, but we recommend reading it before the inevitable movie based upon its prose arrives in a theater near you.

GIFT-GIVING SCENARIO #2 — Your girlfriend/niece/daughter/goddaughter turns twenty in 2015.

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Pick #1 comes from 1995, the year of their birth

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama – The current President, the one people born in 1995 remember most clearly at this point, published this autobiography during the year they were born. So, that seems like a great place to start this gift to people born in 1995. In this memoir, President Obama explores what it meant to him to be the son of a black African father and a white American mother. His book takes you from small town Kansas, from which President Obama retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, and places in between. Note: President Obama won a grammy for his recording of this memoir; so, an audio-book version might be a great option.

Pick #2 was published in 2005, when they were ten

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Many high schoolers across the country have read this as part of required reading lists because it is an amazing book of the Holocaust with an unusual narrator – Death. You should read it and give it because it 1) will change you and the gift recipient, 2) is well-written, and 3) reminds you that in the heart of the worst darkness there is hope and there are good people. And ultimately, this novel is about the power of books and stories.

Pick #3, the final pick, is from 2015, the year of this special occasion

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love and life told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch – living in Indiana, trying to figure out what their senior year of HS means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). We can not recommend it highly enough; but, be warned you will be very, very sad, as well as happy, while you read this book. Your gift recipient will be thrilled to be reminded that High School and all its angst is behind them.

You get the idea.  And, what is truly, truly great about this idea, is that it works for anyone, for any occasion, year after year. Have fun finding the perfect books for the loved ones in your life.

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