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Today, Carin Pratt, bookseller extraordinaire at the fabulous Norwich Bookstore, has graciously agreed to be our guest blogger. We were thrilled when she said yes because neither of us can ever resist even one of her recommendations. Her “you must read this book” statements always point us to books that challenge our thinking and are graced with incredible writing. We are excited Book Jam readers will benefit from her latest recommendations with today’s special post. And, we apologize in advance for the fact that the stack of books you purchase from your favorite bookstore or check out from your library will be a bit bigger than usual as a result of Carin’s recommendations. (We hope you have been keeping that New Year’s resolution to lift more weights.)

So, thank you Carin! Happy end of the USA’s Presidents’ Day Weekend! Happy reading!

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I have taken the challenge of Liza at the Norwich Bookstore to read outside my comfort zone this year.  As my comfort zone consists of literary fiction, literary fiction, and literary mysteries, with a smattering of not-so-literary mysteries tossed in, and since I work in a bookstore and all kinds of books are pretty handy, this shouldn’t be too hard.  To that end, here is what I am reading this month, and here’s to breaking out of long-held habits.

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When was the last time you read an art book?  I thought so. I am no exception. Then The Secret Lives of Color (Kassia St. Clair) walked into my life. St. Clair tells the stories of seventy five colors, how they came about, what they are made of, what they are associated with, and how, in some cases, they changed history. A fascinating, even thrilling book.  You will never look at anything yellow again in the same way. And now, when someone walks into the store looking for a “red” book, I can be even more obnoxious than usual and ask “Would that be rosso corsa, hematite, vermilion or cochineal?” ~ Carin Pratt

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As I lived in Washington DC for 30 years, I pretty much have sworn off DC tell-alls and books about politics. Been there, done that. But I did pick up Fire and Fury (Michael Wolff). As a former journalist, I did have some issues with the sourcing of his book about Trump and question how Wolff knew exactly what some people were thinking and feeling, but I found the book riveting and read it practically straight through. A warning, though: if you are looking for a book about Trump that will make you feel better about him and his administration, this ain’t it. ~ Carin Pratt
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As a voyeur, I am more of a reader of memoirs than biographies. But this year could change things, what with my husband regaling me day after day with Grant‘s trials and exploits. (“Wait, wait, I can’t walk the dog.  Grant‘s about to conquer Vicksburg.”) Then a patron came into the store and told me I had to read Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill. (Sonia Purnell). Why, I asked. Because, she said, did you know that Winston Churchill liked to turn somersaults in his bathtub? Well, no.  But that was certainly enough to get me to read the book. And turns out she was a remarkable and complex woman, who has been totally overshadowed by her somersaulting (admittedly he had other talents) husband. ~ Carin Pratt
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Good essays make you think and that can be hard work. I can be a lazy reader. But the essays of Peter Orner in Am I Alone Here?  Notes on Living to Read and Reading toLive, have not only altered how I look at essays — I love to think about things, especially books and writing, and now I pledge to read one book of essays a month. There are so many good and provocative essayists out there — just check out our section at the store. Or ask me. (And yes, I consider the MOTH collections essays.) ~ Carin Pratt
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As kind of a meat-and-potatoes reader, not one for the weirder stuff, I avoid science fiction and dystopic literature, by and large. But I’ll make exceptions for exceptional writing (i.e. Station Eleven). There has been a lot of buzz around Carmen Maria Machado’s stories Her Body and Other Parties (National Book Award Finalist, a number of prizes…) and these eight impossible-to-characterize stories deserve every bit of it. Mythic, fantastic, horrifying, provocative and utterly original, they are wonderfully written and totally unforgettable. Try as you might. ~ Carin Pratt
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And now an image (see above) and tribute from Carin’s previous life in DC. (Trust us, your day will be a bit brighter if you click on this link to her former boss’s tribute to Carin. And although we can picture Carin laughing and/or rolling her eyes when she reads this — we admit we teared up a bit when Mr. Schieffer did.) Thank you Carin for guest blogging, for your recommendations, and for just being you. We are grateful you now live in a small Vermont town next to our small Vermont town so that our lives can intersect a bit. DC’s loss is our gain.
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This week we feature “3 Questions” with Annelise Orleck, author of We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now. Her latest of many books offers look at globalization as seen through the eyes of workers-activists: small farmers, fast-food servers, retail workers, hotel housekeepers, home-healthcare aides, airport workers, and adjunct professors who are fighting for respect, safety, and a living wage. Professor Orleck is a professor of history at Dartmouth College and the author of five books on politics, immigration, and activism, including Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty. She lives in Vermont.

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Professor Orleck will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, February 28th. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of We Are All Fast Food Workers Now.

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

The books/authors that have had the most profound impact on shaping me as a writer offer a mix of brilliant language, history, heart, music, insight into the troubling and wonderful human and flights of imagination that took me away.

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

I have had the pleasure of meeting some of my faves, including Bashevis Singer, Toni Cade, and Dorothy Allison. But most of all, I will always cherish the pleasure of hanging out in the Thetford Elementary School yard and at Thetford’s Treasure Island with Grace Paley.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Books currently on my night stand:

 

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing and the living of life, 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 or bookstore related venues. 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.

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Every year we audit the diversity of the authors we review because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps in our next year of reviews.

During the twelve months since our February 2017 audit, we reviewed 164 authors. If you have no interest in the audit results and only wish to see our new reviews of four great books, just scroll down to the next image — the new reviews start there.

The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.

Now some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 59% of the authors we featured. Fewer than half (41%) of all authors we featured were white women, and some (18%) of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. Fewer than 10% of our featured authors were Latinas (5%) or Asian women (4%); and, 15% of the authors were black (either African or African-American) women.

There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a third (28%) of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. Ten percent of the male authors were black. Very few authors we featured were Asian men (1%) or Latinos (1%).

Adding men and women together, 32% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was geographic diversity — more than half (55%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (i.e., Canada, UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (25% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were black (African or African American).

To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 26% of authors in 2016 and 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that not quite a third (32%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were authors of color. So, once again, we vow to continue to search the shelves for a diversity of authors.

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And now some new reviews.

We begin February – Black History Month – by highlighting some great, new books by authors who identify as black.

FC9781250171085.jpgWhen They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018) – This memoir by one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement powerfully combines her personal experiences as a black woman in the USA with overarching social commentary about life for black Americans living in poverty. Her family’s story is incredibly moving and her prose makes all she has dealt with in her short life incredibly accessible. In the process, she also outlines the work, people, and dreams behind Black Lives Matter, a story greatly enhanced by her candor about her personal journey. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780871407535.jpgThe Annotated African American Folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates and Maria Tatar (2018) – Susan Voake of the Norwich Bookstore brought this to our attention with her recent review — “Hallelujah! Let’s begin 2018 with a landmark volume by two luminaries in their fields. Collections of African American folktales have been available, specifically for children, for the last thirty years. For the first time, they are collected and annotated by authorities in both African American culture and world folklore for the popular adult audience.” I agree this volume is worth reading, as well as owning, for years to come. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062359995.jpgAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016) – This novel was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2016, but somehow I only just read it last week. (Perhaps I was too busy reading her fabulous children’s books.) In this adult novel, August, the novel’s main character, and her closest girlfriends believe Brooklyn is a magical place where they feel beautiful and capable, and they know a bright future is theirs for the taking. It is also a place where men behave badly, mothers have difficulties coping, and madness often prevails. Told in sparse prose, Ms. Woodson provides insight into growing up a black girl in the USA, and city life in NYC. If you need further persuasion her work is worth reading, she has been recognized with the Coretta Scott King, Newberry Honor, and a Caldecott Honor awards, just to name a few. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781594206252.jpgFeel Free by Zadie Smith (2018) – Essays by one of my favorite writers are always a reason to celebrate. This new collection contains musings about social networks, joy, the Oscar-nominated movie “Get Out”, Rome, mourning, and Key and Peele. As always, this book contains her precise, beautiful, and thought-provoking prose. Enjoy! (Thank you to children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for letting us borrow your advance copy of this superb collection so we could include it today.) ~ Lisa Christie

And, we finish with some political cartooning.

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Yet again, we recently had a conversation in which we stated that while AMAZING authors are writing superb books for children today, children do not always have to read the absolutely latest books. It really is worth looking at books written over the years — because even if that book for ten-year-olds is ten years old, it is new to today’s ten-year-olds. So, with that in mind, we are reviewing a few “classics” written over the years for kids and young adults.

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For Children

FC9780448464961.jpgThe Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene (assorted years) – These classic detective novels about teenage Nancy, her boyfriend Ned, and their friends were loved, loved, loved by one of us. They are also beloved all over the world, with multiple movies and TV shows. This does not make them any less magical for children who discover them for the first time. We now add the Trixie Belden Series by Julie Campbell – This series was read and re-read as an seven, eight, and nine year old by the one of us who could not even remotely relate to the perfect Nancy Drew; Trixie’s obvious flaws and obnoxiously curly hair made her feel right at home. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689846236-1.jpgThe Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938) – This tender, heart-renching tale of a boy named Jody and the orphaned fawn he adopted has been read by millions and made into a movie. The fawn, Flag, becomes Jody’s best friend. Unfortunately, their life in the woods of Florida is harsh, complete with fights with wolves, bears, and even alligators.  However, ultimately their failure at farming forces Jody to part with his dear friend.~ Lisa Cadow

FC9780689844454.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill, he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.)

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my now 12-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie (Also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.)

FC9780881035414.jpgAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947) – This infamous diary, written by a teenage victim of the Holocaust, has helped millions understand the horrors of WWII. As so many know because of this diary, in 1942,  thirteen-year-old Anne and her family fled their home in Amsterdam to go into hiding. For two years, until they were betrayed to the Gestapo, they lived in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building, facing hunger, boredom, the constant insane difficulties and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. With this diary Anne Frank let us all know what so many experienced. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780544570986.jpgBooked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (assorted years) – Yes, we love Mr. Alexander’s books. Yes, we have recommended both these books before. But trust us, the youth readers you love will love these books about soccer (Booked) and basketball (The Crossover). They are poetic, perfect for reluctant readers, and both address how life happens while you have your eye on the ball. (Also reviewed in Sports Books That are About So Much More.)

FC9780545791342.jpgHarry Potter Series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – This ebtire series reminded us as adults of the magic of stories for children and adults. This series magically reminded readers all over the world that kids can be powerful and adults can be stern, but helpful. Please don’t let the commercial aspects of successful movies and theme parks turn you away from these characters. They really are great tales. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780786838653.jpgPercy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan (assorted years) – This was an important audio books for me and my two sons.  It combines Greek myths and real life, relatable kids – perfect. And, if you like this initial Percy Jackson series there are many, many spin-off series, including one devoted to Egyptian myths, one to Norse myths, and one that combines Greek and Roman myths, using characters from the original Percy Jackson Series. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780064409391.jpgThe Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis (assorted years) – We both read and re-read this series throughout elementary school and loved it each time. The series addresses bullying, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes, that adults are often helpful to children, but sometimes they are not, teamwork, and the power of great stories. For Lisa Christie, this series truly laid the groundwork for her love of all things British. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689711817.jpgThe Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg (1967)Probably the favorite book from elementary school for each of us. Running away to live in a museum in NYC? Sign us up. For those of you needing a plot overview, not just a reminder of this fabulous book, in this book, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, and in doing so does not run from somewhere, she runs to somewhere–a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant — the Met. And, in a very smart move, she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780141321066.jpgThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett (1911) – In this novel, orphaned Mary Lennox is sent to her uncle’s mansion on the Yorkshire Moors. There she finds many secrets, including a dormant garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. This was perhaps the first book to show us both the beauty of England, as well as the possibilities of special places and unlikely friendships. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780679824114.jpgThe Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborn (assorted years) – The audio book versions of these early chapter books have saved many a car trip with kids.  The paper versions are excellent first chapter books for emerging readers. And the main characters – Jack and Annie – will provide your early readers with hours of friendship and adventure as they use their time-traveling treehouse. As adults, you may learn a thing or two about history as well. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780544022805.jpgThe Wednesday Wars (2007) and OK For Now (2011) by Gary Schmidt (For those of us of a certain age, it is hard to believe the the 1960s and 1970s are being taught in our schools as history instead of as current events. But they are. These two books provide an excellent introduction to this era and some of the topics of the 60s and 70s – Vietnam, the women’s movement, environmentalism. They also tackle school bullies, poverty, joblessness, great teachers and hope. Both provide memorable characters in extremely moving moments. Both were award winners – OK For Now  was a National Book Award Finalist and The Wednesday Wars was a Newberry Honor Book.

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic of 1960 to the United States, and because they are suspected of opposing Trujillo, the government’s secret police terrorize those left behind. A fictional version of Ms. Alvarez’s experiences as a child in the DR, this book reminds us all of what it feels like to not feel safe in your own home and how important the promise of a new life somewhere else are to those who need hope.

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A few for Young adults

FC9780446677554.jpgCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2000) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, and charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream. But it also showcases the power of sports to change lives. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (First reviewed in But the News…)

FC9780307389732.jpgLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988) – Long ago in Colombia Florentino Ariza, a poet meets and falls forever in love with Fermina Daza. She marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino does not give up easily and decides to wait as long as he has to until Fermina is free. This ends up as 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later, when suddenly, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies, chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The tale is then told in flashbacks to the time of cholera and then again in present time.  The words are perfect, the plot unforgettable and the novel one you will not regret picking up. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780375759314.jpgCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987) – This novel follows the lives and aspirations of two couples as they move between Vermont and Wisconsin.  The prose quietly propels you through with compassion and majesty, providing incredible insight into friendship and marriage. (We acknowledge we may be a bit biased due to the Vermont connection, but Mr. Stegner’s prose is phenomenal.) ~ Lisa Cadow (seconded by Lisa Christie)

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride when Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he thinks killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. ~ Lisa Christie (First reviewed in FEARS: Part Two)

FC9780380778553.jpgRebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature.  ~ Lisa Cadow (Reviewed in Fiction Lovers – a few classics)

FC9780140186390-1.jpgEast of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – While Grapes of Wrath (1939) is probably assigned more often by English teachers everywhere, this book reads like a soap opera told in excellent prose. I also think that one can learn all the nuances of good and evil from this tale of Mr. Steinbeck. And I can say that almost 40 years later, I still remember how I felt reading this book as a teen. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780767901260.jpgA Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind (1998) – Using actual people, this book clearly illustrates the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods. As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Mr. Suskind followed a few students in a high school in a struggling, drug-riddled neighborhood in Washington, D.C. for a few years to see what happens to students in schools that lack the resources to effectively serve them. The true story of one of these students, the heart of this book, will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780671792763.jpgBrave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1991) – Gorgeous, insightful, interesting and diverse essays populate this collection. We promise you will learn something and the diversity of the subjects (e.g., life in DC, building of the Brooklyn Bridge, Harriet Beecher Stowe, pioneer aviators like Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham, and Anne Lindbergh, what Presidents do in retirement) means that there is something in this collection for every reader. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780307278449.jpgThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – WOW, what insight into so many things can be found in this slim volume. Told in multiple, sometimes contradictory, interlocking stories, Ms. Morrison explores Whiteness as the common standard of beauty, the power of stories for survival, and sexual abuse. We don’t think you will forget this tale anytime soon. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780446310789.jpgTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – The amazing Mrs. McPherson (yes teachers, you are remembered years later) introduced my eighth grade English class to this classic — one which resonated so well as a 12-year-old and continues to awe me (and thousands of others) today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780141040349.jpgFC9781607105558.jpgPride and Prejudice (1813) and Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen – Just good books. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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NOTE — this talk was postponed to February 16th due to icy weather.

This week we feature “3 Questions” with Cullen Murphy, author of Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-BelieveMr. Murphy is the editor-at-large at Vanity Fair and the former managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. (He is  also the brother of the The Long Haul author and truck driver Finn Murphy who visited The Norwich Bookstore last year.)

Cartoon County tells the story of Mr. Murphy’s father — John Cullen Murphy – the illustrator of the wildly popular comic strips Prince Valiant and Big Ben Bolt, and a man who had been trained by Norman Rockwell. Cartoon County focuses on a period of time in the last century when many of the the nation’s top cartoonists and magazine illustrators – including Mr. Murohy’s father – were neighbors in the southwestern corner of Connecticut. This book, through the lens of the author’s relationship with his father, brings the postwar American era and life in the arts alive.

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Mr. Murphy will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 17th. This Norwich Bookstore event offers an excellent opportunity to learn about this unique place and time in the 20th century. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of Cartoon County.

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

A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee. This was McPhee’s profile of Bill Bradley as a Princeton basketball player, and I read it in college. It made me aware of the possibilities of a certain kind of literary reporting. Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. A teacher gave me this nineteenth-century romp when I was in seventh grade in Ireland–there was a kind of high-end silliness about it that has offered a reminder ever since not to take yourself too seriously. Big Story, by Peter Braestrup. Peter was a mentor, and this book was his account of how the press reported the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. It was influential because the account offers many cautionary tales; because it demonstrated that a journalist could do scholarly work; and because I watched him research and write it even as he held a full-time job, showing how that was done.

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

Maybe William James. From what I can tell just from his writing–I’ve never read a biography, and should–he seems to have combined an omnidirectional mind and a genial disposition. And for someone who was at his peak around the turn of the last century, he comes across as someone whom you could bump into tomorrow and think you were meeting a contemporary. You would never think that about his novelist brother.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Munich, by Robert Harris. I’m a big Robert Harris fan, and would especially recommend his Rome trilogy, built around Cicero. (Also Pompeii–the opening scene is a classic.) Dinner at the Center of the Earth, by Nathan Englander. I’ve loved Englander’s work ever since reading the early stories of his that we published in The Atlantic. And Grant, by Ron Chernow. Anything by Chernow is worthwhile. Although Hamilton has gotten the most attention–for obvious reasons–I was captivated by his biographies of Rockefeller and Washington.

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing and the living of life, 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 or bookstore related venues. 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.

Once again, it is time for our annual list of great books to dig into after the relatives have left ( or, after the holidays end). This year, we seem to have selected some amazing tales that all have powerful women at their center (maybe we are channeling the women’s marches of a year ago). However, no matter their commonalities, each of these books will provide excellent reading to start your new year. Happy 2018!

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FC9781631494758.jpgWomen and Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard (2017) – Stop everything you’re doing, find a copy this beautiful little black book and start reading. Next, immediately buy ten copies and share them with your daughters sisters, and mother. And then, read it again. And then, share it with the men in your life (e.g., sons, husband, partner, co-workers, neighbors). Mary Beard’s newest work, sure to be a classic (no pun intended), is based on two of her lectures and draws upon her deep knowledge of the classics (she is a professor at Cambridge University and is the author of bestselling SPQR).  Beard examines how the the stories of mythical Greco-Roman characters like Penelope, Medusa, and Clytemnestra have informed women’s contemporary perceptions of how women are allowed to use our voices in public and to navigate the centers of power. A perfect pairing with Chimamanda Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists and a powerful resource to help guide women in the #metoo era. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780399575068.jpgHum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marias (2016) – An intimate look at life in South Africa during Apartheid.  This tale is told through the eyes of Robin, a young white girl who loses her mother and father during during the 1976 student uprising in Soweto. By using the narrator’s innocence to drive a plot of how she and Beauty, a middle-aged Black teacher who also experiences heart-wrenching loss during the uprising, are flung together, Ms. Marias exposes so much about how living through hate and fear causes unending harm. A great book for those with an interest in South Africa, human rights, racism, atypical families, and/or coming-of-age stories. ~Lisa Christie

FC9780735224292.jpgLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017) – A page turning tale of a suburb turned inside out when a mother-daughter duo rolls into town.  With her latest novel, Ms. Ng tackles race, adoption, planned communities (based on her own experiences growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio), teenagers, middle-aged dreams, and art, all in a well-written tale of family and love. ~Lisa Christie

FC9780062654199.jpgThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn  (2017) – This suspenseful tale moves seamlessly between World War I and World War II and follows the stories of two iconoclastic women, the more mature Eve Gardiner and young American Charlie St. Claire.  The older Eve is damaged, aging, living in London, drinking entirely too much,  and still trying to recover from her experiences during the Great War a spy in Northern France for the all-female Alice Network (which existed and is based on historical records). Charlie has come to Europe in 1947, unmarried, pregnant, and trying to find her missing French cousin Rose who disappeared during the French occupation in 1945. Charlie and Eve form a fragile, unlikely friendship and work together while moving through France to solve the mystery of Rose and to find an individual who betrayed The Alice Network in 1915.  This is excellent, well-researched historical fiction and will appeal to readers who enjoyed Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge and JoJo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind. Perfect for “after the relatives have left.” ~Lisa Cadow

And finally, HAPPY 2018!

It is that time of year again – time for our last minute holiday gift guide. We are almost, but not quite, too late for Hanukkah. However, we post in plenty of time for Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanza, New Years, and all those just after the holidays birthdays you are too tired to shop for.  Whatever holidays you celebrate, best wishes and happy reading.

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For YA fans

FC9780062330628.jpgFar From the Tree by Robin Benway (2017) –  This novel won the 2017 National Book Award winner for young people’s literature; and, I applaud its selection (even when it was up against The Hate U Give which I also loved). I was completely charmed and challenged by this completely moving tale of three biological siblings (Joaquin, Maya, Grace) who discover each other as teens.  A complex tale of adoption, race, foster care, teen life, bullying, what makes a family, and love. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year for adults or kids. Enjoy.

FC9780062498533-1.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) –  Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular National Book Award Finalist book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As the jacket description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”. Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!

FC9780310761839.jpgSolo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017) – Mr. Alexander does it again, with help this time from Ms. Hess; I truly love the books this man creates. Blade’s father, an ageing rock star reacted to the death of Blade’s mom with an everlasting and highly dysfunctional descent into addiction and absentee parenting. As the story unfolds, Blade deals with high school graduation, his father’s inability to stay sober, his sister’s delusions of grandeur, the fact the love of his life has broken his heart, and a recent revelation he is adopted, by escaping to Ghana to find the birth mother he didn’t even know he missed. This is a terrific tale of music, maturing, love, adoption, and finding your way. It is all told in Mr. Alexander’s usual sparse, but effecting poetic style (with an added bonus of a great soundtrack).

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For Adults

FC9780316243926.jpgBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s newest novel – The Good People – reminded us of how much we liked her first one. This first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. Enjoy. Note, this was also reviewed in our previous post “Books to Inspire Your Summer Travels“.

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from the perspective of a MSNBC and MBC reporter following Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” 

FC9781616205041.jpgYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) – For those of us who lived through the Bill Clinton sexual relations intern scandal, this book will seem familiar. What might not seem so familiar is the humor and candor about society’s standards contained in this “light” novel about how decisions we make when we are young have implications. Also reviewed during our recent Pages in the Pub.

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own life. Note – this is also a great audio book.

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For children

FC9781481450188.jpgPatina by Jason Reynolds (2017) – A teenaged girl learns a lot about life’s unfair experiences and how family can help you manage it all. We learn to love her family and how great track stars are made.

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I’ve read all year. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs, all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry.

FC9780763677541.jpgThe Wolf, The Duck, and The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (2017) – A SUPERBLY fun tale of interspecies cooperation and making the best of a situation. Bonus — great illustrations by award winning Jon Klassen. Also reviewed during our recent Pages in the Pub.

FC9781484717790.jpg7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar (2017) – This book is proof that good puns are never done.  It is a clever Noir picture book (who knew there was such a thing) playing on a classic preschool joke/pun. Also reviewed during our recent Pages in the Pub.

 

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For anyone

Just a reminder that most bookstores also stock Jigsaw Puzzles, board games, card games, and literary gifts like socks or necklaces.