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Mississippi

Sometimes we seek out books about certain places or topics (e.g., our Iceland post). Sometimes, the books we happen to be reading and current events collide. This happened earlier this year when the anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act converged with our reading two pieces of fiction dealing with the aftermath of the civil right movement in Mississippi.

Besides the fact we read these two books back to back, what do these two books have in common?  Both present the authors’ views of post 1960s Mississippi – in one case the book is set in the present day and in the other in the late 1980s.  Both have plots that depend upon evolving race relations. Both invoke the 1960s civil rights movement as they try to solve current dilemmas. Both invoke quintessential town squares we come to expect in books that take place in the American South (think To Kill A Mockingbird).  Both were very well received by book critics at The Washington Post and New York Times. And, most importantly for a Book Jam post in June, both picks fit the “summer thriller” category. We hope you enjoy taking them to the beach or to a treehouse or to your mountain cabin or to your favorite chair on very your own front porch.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles (March 2014) – I am glad this is the first part of a trilogy, as much was left unfinished for the next two books to tackle.  After reading John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, I was drawn to this novel of Mississippi and a present day crime rooted in the 1960s civil rights struggle. The details made my stomach turn — mostly because much of what Mr. Iles plotted is based in actual unsolved cases involving disappeared “negroes” and the white people who tried to help. However, I don’t think that summer reading is required to be light and there are plenty of characters to cheer for, so we call this as a great summer read.  Honestly, this novel is more of a saga written as a thriller with current social issues intertwined in the plot, but whatever you call it, it is a book I recommend.

Others recommend it as well.  The Washington Post’s review stated both that “With ‘Natchez Burning’, Greg Iles is back better than ever“, and that the book brings “… an impressive beginning to what could prove to be an epic exploration of the nation’s secrets and hidden sins, and it marks the return of a gifted novelist who has been out of the public eye for much too long.” ~ Lisa Christie

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (October 2013) – Mr. Grisham is a master at plot and suspense, and has once again created a page-turning story. Since I am a fan of the movie A Time To Kill, spending time with Jake Brigance during Sycamore Row — this time three years after the trial from A Time to Kill – felt like a mini reunion. Again, as with Mr. Iles’s book, other reviewers agree this is a must read. As the New York Times review stated “‘Sycamore Row’ reminds us that the best legal fiction is written by lawyers.” Or as the Washington Post reviewer wrote “‘Sycamore Row’ is easily the best of his books that I’ve read and ranks on my list with Stephen King’s “11/22/63” as one of the two most impressive popular novels in recent years.” Please note: This book ended up on many best of 2013 lists — lists that include authors whose novels tend not to become blockbuster movies  — and it was also previously mentioned by The Book Jam in our 2013 last minute holiday gifts post~ Lisa Christie

BONUS pick on this Mississippi Theme:

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This story set in post WWII Mississippi is a heartbreaking story of racial relations, poor treatment of returning veterans, and the high price of silence as members of two families living in rural Mississippi collide. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

 

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”.

v fish

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 both attend these special author events and read their books.

vf cover

Today, we feature Victoria Fish author of A Brief Moment of Weightlessness, a collection of short stories. In addition to writing short stories, and blogging about life, Ms. Fish is pursuing her Masters of Social Work. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Hunger Mountain, Slow Trains, Wild River Review, and Literary Mama. She lives with her husband and three boys in our hometown in Vermont. A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is her first published book.

Ms. Fish will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 25th to discuss her book and her work. Reservations are recommended. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to reserve your seat. We have heard it is close to “selling out” so call soon.

 

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

The Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green. My Antonia, by Willa Cather. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner.  All three of these books took me beyond my known world, while at the same time, almost miraculously, connected me with my own experiences of joy and wonder and loss. Books like these that both create a sense of yearning and a sense of finding make me want to write.

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

Mary Ladd Gavell, the author of I Cannot Tell A Lie Exactly.  Gavell died at the age of 47, having only published one story. That story, posthumously, was chosen by John Updike as one of the Best Short Stories of the Century, and, after that her children published a book of her stories. She writes about motherhood (and other topics) with understated poignancy, honesty and wit. There is one story called “The Swing” about a mother who imagines that her son, now in his 30’s, visits the backyard at night as a 6 year old boy again. I cannot get through that story without crying, every time, sideswiped anew with how she writes with such simplicity and power about intangible loss. I want to ask her, how did she do it? What else would she have written if she hadn’t died?

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

Mrs. Somebody Somebody, stories by Tracy Winn. Runaway, stories by Alice Munro. Red Bird: Poems, poems by Mary Oliver. I have read all three, but I always keep a few books like this to dip into again and again, words I know will satisfy me.

 

Last week, on a GORGEOUS Spring evening that actually felt like summer (being Vermonters some of us were melting in the 78 degree heat), readers from Norwich, Vermont and surrounding towns gathered in The Norwich Inn Pub to hear about some superb new books to bring to the mountains this summer, and to give to grads and dads later this month.

The evening was the latest outing of the Book Jam’s live event – “Pages in the Pub”.  This event is designed to bring together independent booksellers, literary bloggers, educators, librarians, and book lovers for an evening of talking about great titles.

 beer & book

This event sold out, but those people lucky enough to get a ticket sipped drinks, listened to great book reviews and laughed a bit.  We focused on GREAT books for summer reading because summer is just around the corner, and great gifts for grads and dads because those celebrations are upon us. Because of everyone’s efforts, a few people completed their father’s day shopping during the event, and most got a good start on stocking up on great summer reading.  We also raised over $700 for the library, all while increasing sales for a treasured independent bookstore – The Norwich Bookstore of Norwich, Vermont.

Our SUPERB presenters included (and we truly thank them for their time and talent):

  • Beth Reynolds - Beth is the children’s librarian at the Norwich Public Library during the week and dons her bookseller cap on the weekends at the Norwich Bookstore where she has helped many a family find the perfect last-minute birthday present. When not working in town you can find her at home knitting, reading, baking, writing or taking pictures of her new lop-earred bunny.
  • Carin Pratt – Carin moved to the Upper Valley three years ago after spending 30 years in DC working as a television producer. She’s never looked back. She reads a lot.
  • Penny McConnel – Penny is the co owner of The Norwich Bookstore. She lives in Norwich with husband Jim and enjoys gardening, reading, studying Italian, cooking, knitting, visiting her three sons and a grandson in Phoenix, the Bay Area and Burgundy France, and best of all, doing things with Jim.
  • Jim Gold – Our first male presenter in Norwich says — “Reading has given me the quiet eye and understanding heart to see beyond the confines of my dental profession. It fosters good conversation. Other activities that feed my soul:  hiking, cycling, canoeing, gardening, woodturning, cooking and time with my favorite and far more experienced book seller, Penny McConnel.”
  • Lisa Christie – Lisa is, among other things, the co-founder of the Book Jam and a nonprofit consultant. One of her best jobs was being the founder of Everybody Wins! Vermont, a statewide literacy organization.  In her spare time she reads (though never as much as she would like), bikes, swims and has fun with her husband and two sons.

Since most of you could not join us in person, we now share the great titles discussed last week. This post lists all twenty-one books discussed during the evening (Beth somehow snuck in an extra title), each with its special six-word review written by the presenter. Each of their selections is linked to The Norwich Bookstore web site where you can learn more about the picks and order your books. You’ll also notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier.  Have fun looking, and enjoy getting a head start on your summer of great reading.

Non-fiction or reference book – For people who like to ponder large tomes during summer vacation

  • Summertime by Joanne Dugan (2014). Selected by Beth – Photos you’ll want to jump inside.
  • My Venice by Donna Leon (2013). Selected by Jim – Poignant. Insightful. Clever. Observant. Witty. No BS.

Cookbooks – For anyone looking for summer inspiration

Memoirs – For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

  • My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor (2013). Selected by Penny – Inspiring. Hopeful. Insightful. Educational. Fantastic story.

Adult Fiction – For a woman who only has time for the best fiction after hiking all day

  • Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (2014). Selected by Carin – Thirty-somethings navigate small town lIfe.
  • While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell (2014). Selected by Lisa – “True” story of “Sleeping Beauty”. Fun.
  • We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride (2014). Selected by Beth – It’s all about connections. And love.
  • The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (2012). Selected by Jim – Excellent character development carries moving tale.
  • And The Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass (2014). Selected by Penny – Searching can bring you home again.

 

Adult fiction – For a man who has enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

Books for summer campers/ young readers in Tree-houses (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

  • Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (2012). Selected by Lisa – Series. Art. History. Fun. Smart kids.

Books for your favorite High Schooler – “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009). Selected by Beth – Imagine Harry Potter going to college.
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014). Selected by Lisa – Charmed Island Life? Tragic Choices.  OK?

PERFECT books for the dads and grads in your life – or stated another way, last minute gifts to ensure happy celebrations

A brief note to our valued readers — While we are not Goodreads, we are trying to grow and show that small independent bloggers and bookstores make a difference.  So this June, we are campaigning to increase our subscribers.

Please subscribe if you have not already done so.  And if you are a subscriber, please encourage your fellow readers to subscribe to the Book Jam.  To subscribe, go to the right hand side of our blog – under email subscription – and provide your email. THANK YOU!

 

 

 

May brings Children’s Book Week, and The Book Jam failed to celebrate on time. However, since we believe in reading and honoring children’s books year round, we are extending the weekly celebration by highlighting a few of our favorite 2014 picture books (at least so far).  And, since the combination of illustrations and writing is key to this genre, we would like to point out that by coincidence, in each of our picks, the author and the illustrator are the same person.

The Girl and the Green Bicycle written and illustrated by Mark Peck (2014) – A lovely, lovely book, with enchanting pictures that wonderfully illustrate the virtues of love, hard work, and making the best of a situation. And, it does so without preaching. Prior to posting, we showed this to a few customers in the Norwich Bookstore and they were all a bit teary while they read.

This wordless picture book tells a moving story of a girl who wants a green bicycle she spots in a store window. When her piggy bank does not hold enough to purchase it immediately, she sets about to earn the necessary funds. Then, just when she earns enough to purchase the bike, it is gone.  Does she wallow?  Does she pout?  Nope – she uses her money to buy something for her brother instead.  Is she rewarded?  YES!  But, we will make you read it to discover the nature of this reward. Enjoy this yourself and then give to many others. (After reading this we discovered Mr. Peck also wrote and illustrated The Boy and The Airplane, and that the characters from that first book are subtle plot devices in this one.) ~ Lisa Christie

Two Speckled Eggs written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann (2014) – A great story for anyone who has ever been the odd person out. It uses a girl’s birthday party to show how hard being a friend can be, and how the “in” crowd is not always all it is cracked up to be. To sum, Ginger’s mom makes her invite ALL the girls in her class to her party, including Lyla Browning, who smells like old leaves and once brought a tarantula to school. Then, during the party, some of the girls change the rules to the games making Ginger feel badly, and no one likes her birthday cake — except Lyla. By the time Lyla gives Ginger her present, Ginger wonders, is “being different really such a bad thing?”. ~ Lisa Christie


How to Cheer Up Dad
 written and illustrate by Fred Koehler (2014) – A hilarious book that reverses the parent and child relationships, and makes you realize your kids really do have the power to make you feel better. In this tale, an elephant just can’t understand why his dad is having such a bad day. It couldn’t be the raisins he spit out at the ceiling or the bath he refused to take. Luckily, he has a plan to turn Dad’s day around —  doing some of his dad’s (wink wink) favorite things. HINT – This is perfect for Father’s Day. ~ Lisa Christie

 

BONUS — for children who are a little bit older — The WHO WAS…? WHAT WAS …? SERIES

Thanks to Liza at the Norwich Bookstore, my son discovered this series as a 2nd grader. He loved them so much he would ask for extra chores to earn money to purchase the new titles.  Each book in the series focuses on a specific personality or event in history. Some – Bill Gates, JK Rowling – feature people who are still living among us, but most do not. Each book has goofy illustrations that make the topic seem less daunting. But, the material is interesting enough to keep older elementary school (3rd-5th grade) kids interested. Pick one and enjoy getting hooked. ~ Lisa Christie

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 both attend these special author events and read their books.

Today, we feature Jennifer Senior author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting.  She is a contributing editor at New York Magazine, where she writes profiles and cover stories about politics, social science and mental health. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her journalism, and graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in 1991.  All Joy and No Fun is her first book. To preview her visit to Norwich, you may wish to watch her recent TED talk.

Ms. Senior will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, May 21st to discuss her book and 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? 

I think Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift and Oliver Sacks An Anthropologist on Mars (or any of Sacks’ books, for that matter) both showed me how beguiling case studies could be, and how important they are to make narrative nonfiction come alive when you’re juggling tons of data; otherwise, your writing becomes a plague of statistics and citations. The writing of Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union especially, but really, all of it) and Richard Russo (The Risk Pool and Empire Falls especially, but again, all of it) taught me how important it is to love and feel compassion for your characters (I only profiled families I really liked for All Joy and No Fun.) And like many women, I went through a huge Jane Austen phase in college, and tried to write just like her.

 

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

Anthony Trollope. He was so impossibly prolific, and he wrote like an angel, and his range was staggering, and he did it all WHILE HOLDING DOWN A DAY JOB.

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo (one of the only books of his I haven’t read); S, by Doug Dorst; The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel Lieberman; a galley of The Big Fat Surpriseby Nina Teicholz.

 

Last night, on a GORGEOUS Spring evening just before Mother’s Day, readers from Rhode Island gathered in Newport to hear about some superb new books to bring to the beaches this summer, and to give to moms on Mother’s Day.

The evening was the latest outing of the Book Jam’s live event – “Pages in the Pub”.  This event is designed to bring together independent booksellers, literary bloggers, educators, librarians, and book lovers for an evening of talking about great titles.

This time, we gathered for the first time ever outside our home state of Vermont at the Salvation Cafe in Newport. There we sipped drinks and turned pages, all with the goal of raising money for BabySteps, a Rhode Island based early childhood education center.  We focused on GREAT books for summer reading, because summer is just around the corner, and Newport is a great place to remember the pleasures of beaches.

Because of everyone’s efforts, a few people completed their mother’s day shopping during the event, and most got a good start on stocking up on great summer reading.  We also raised around $600 for BabySteps, while increasing sales for a treasured independent bookstore – Island Books of Newport and Middletown, Rhode Island.
Since most of you could not join us in person, we now share the great titles discussed in Newport. This post lists all twenty books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. Each of their selections is linked to Island Books web site where you can learn more about the picks and order your selections. You’ll also notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier.  Have fun looking, and enjoy getting a head start on your summer of great reading.

Our SUPERB presenters included (and we truly thank them for their time and talents):

  • Ann Hood, Acclaimed Author – Ann is an avid knitter, a nomad, a book lover, and a writer. She travelled all the way from Providence for this event. She’s also a native Rhode Islander.
  • Linda Finn, Board Chair of BabySteps, an early childhood learning program – Linda is a first term, part-time State Representative for Middletown and Portsmouth. She also owns and operates Linda Finn Garden Design, a residential landscape design firm; is a founding member of RI Coalition Against Gun Violence; and, is the Board Chair of BabySteps.
  • Judy Crosby, Owner of Island Books – Judy is the owner of Island Books in Middletown and Newport. When not working at the stores you can find her at home in Portsmouth reading, cooking or gardening. With “Pages in the Pub”, she fulfills the longtime dream of having a book event at the Salvation Cafe thanks to owner Sue Lamond, champion of all things ‘local’ and great supporter of Island Books!

And representing the Book Jam:

  • Lisa Christie, Co-Founder of The Book Jam – Lisa is, among other things, the co-founder of the Book Jam and a nonprofit consultant. One of her best jobs was being the founder/first director of Everybody Wins! Vermont, a statewide literacy organization. And, while she loves living in Vermont, she was VERY excited to be in Newport for an evening.

 

 

Non-fiction or reference book – For people who like to ponder large tomes during summer vacations

  • Centrist Manifesto by Charles Whelan (2013). Selected by Lisa – Usual politics tiring? He proposes solutions.
  • The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2013). Selected by Linda – Friendship, politics, muckrakers. Facts like fiction!

Memoirs – For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

Adult Fiction – For women who have time for the best fiction while at the beach

  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman (2014). Selected by Ann – Secrets, lies, disappearances, a tangled web!
  • Under the Wide & Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (2014). Selected by Ann – Improbable, impassioned, adventurous, unforgettable love story.
  • We Are Water by Wally Lamb (2013). Selected by Linda – Very modern, engaging, family drama.
  • The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh (2014). Selected by Judy – Multi-layered coming-of-age. Keeps pages turning.


 

 

 

 

Adult fiction – For men who have enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon by Anthony Marra (2014). Selected by Lisa – AMAZING writing. Chechnya conflict. Great characters.
  • Orfeo by Richard Powers (2014). Selected by Linda – Intrigue, internet, music fuel this mystery.                                 
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (2014). Selected by Judy – Mars Mission. Accident.  Man’s struggle to survive.

 

Cookbooks or coffee table books or reference books – For your favorite grad or dad

 

Books for summer campers/ young reader (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

  • Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014). Selected by Lisa – Lonely girl uncovers painting. Solves mystery.
  • Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013). Selected by Lisa – How a boy inspired Robin Hood.

Books for your favorite High Schooler – “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (2002). Selected by Judy – Must-read (or re-read) for everyone before movie!

BONUS – PERFECT books for the moms in your life, or last minute gifts to ensure a Happy Mother’s Day

Last week’s school vacation found us traveling the country with our families. And that meant we perused a few airport bookstores.

The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite and the Corruption of Our Great Universities faced us from the “featured books” table or shelf in most of these stores. Seeing that book over and over got us thinking. We then 1) remembered that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and 2) recognized that people all over the country, not just in elite colleges, are dealing with issues relating to sexual assault and the price of silence around these issues.

Then, since when we think, we think of books, we started thinking about books that have helped us think about sexual assault issues for an April post. So today, we highlight two GREAT books — and we really mean REALLY GREAT — that on some level deal with sexual abuse. Our pairing is a bit creative because sexual assault is not what we would say either of these books is about if you asked us to summarize their plots in a sentence or two. But, they both address the topic in some manner, and both are books we recommend as great reads.

Getting away from the fiction, we want to link to our superb local resource on these issues – WISE. We also encourage anyone reading this post to learn about sexual assault resources wherever you reside and read. Because as we recently learned, victims are closer to most of us than we realize.


Now, without further ado we say — whether you want to think about the important topic of sexual assault prevention or not — please read these two AMAZING novels (the second one is targeted towards young adults). We promise you will not regret a minute of the time you spend flipping their pages (electronic or paper).

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home, Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters – the daughter of the abducted man, the father of a despised informant, a doctor trying to hold together a hospital with only three staff members – in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. I honestly can not praise it enough.

How does this book fit today’s theme? Without giving too much away, one of the characters falls victim to human trafficking as she tries to escape the war. This causes reflection on abuse of women during conflicts of all sizes. ~ Lisa Christie (seconded by Lisa Cadow)

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) – Set during one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits — both from the wrong side of the tracks and smart enough to know that first love rarely, if ever, lasts, but willing to risk love anyway. When Park meets Eleanor, you’ll remember your own high school years, riding the school bus, any time you tried to fit in while figuring out who you were, and ultimately your first love.  I also truly believe, that when the book ends, you will think hard about children from the “other side of the tracks” and those from family situations that are less than ideal.

How does this fit with our theme?  One of the characters is abused by a family member. Again, this abuse not what the book is about, but rather an important plot line that makes you think about domestic abuse and how it hides. ~ Lisa Christie

 

 

 

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