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It has been a very good year for cookbooks.

From London to New York to Los Angeles, we have entered a golden age of food writing that is feeding our emerging cravings for heaping bowls of whole grains, buttery avocados, leafy greens, artisanal breads and cheeses with a dollop of exotic, sustainable protein on the side (squid, Merguez sausage, and Korean Clambake!). Flavors of the Middle East and the Mediterranean – pomegranate seeds, kofta, Burrata, and preserved lemons, oh my! – permeate these offerings and promise to elevate our own homemade creations. But rest assured, they also all include familiar and favorite familiar foods like Brussels sprouts, creamy mashed potatoes, and quintessential roast chickens.

Not only will adding one or two of these luscious cookbooks to your shelf make for an adventurous and delicious 2017, but having these on your list will make gift giving to friends and family as easy as (pot) pie. Even if your loved ones don’t pull out their pans on a regular basis, each and every one of these titles make beautiful coffee table books and are dreamy to peruse, even if the reader is eating take out while reading one. Happy Reading and Happy Eating!

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Simple Cover ImageSimple by Diana Henry (2016) – Quite simply, this book is about how to turn the everyday into something special. Cumin-roast eggplants, chickpeas, walnuts, and dates ?? Why didn’t I think of that? Salmon tartare and avocado on rye? Now that’s one heck of an avocado toast! For most of us, who have the everyday in our cupboards, this book is the key to what will help make the ordinary extraordinary. This book, with a British, Ottolenghi-infused sensibility, is the one I have put at the top of my wish list and am most likely to gift others this year.

Food52 a New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead Cover ImageFood52: A New Way to Dinner. A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. (2016). What sets this book apart is its approach, encouraging readers to plan out their food a week ahead and to get most of work done in advance, shopping lists included. The authors offer prep advice and also easy, seasonal, and truly sophisticated recipes. Take winter for example: Stubbs offers the reader a week of menus for the colder weather that play with Brussels sprouts, coconut bars and roast turbo. She and co-author Hesser take turns sharing their take on how to perfectly dish up dinner during the different months of the year. This book promises to make you feel like you’re eating at the chic bistro in NYC when, with a little bit of prep work, you’re actually just sitting at your own kitchen table on a weeknight. Thank you, Amanda and Merrill!

Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs Cover ImageSmall Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs by Julia Turshen (2016) – This is a cozy cookbook. The cover photo gives this away, as it features an enticing bowl of chicken soup that makes you wish you had a spoon to dive right in. Turshen’s author photo shows her standing by her sunny kitchen window wearing a comfy pair of slippers. She had me at “Roasted Radishes with Kalamata Dressing” and her “Seven Things to Do with Leftover Roast Chicken.” Sophisticated but entirely without pretense, this is another book I am sure to give my dear ones this year.

Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking Cover ImageEverything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow (2016) – Jessica Koslow’s book has made it onto practically every “best of list” in 2016. Think of it as the healthy hipsters guide to cooking NOW. Opening it up is like taking a trip to her celebrated restaurant in LA, elevated avocado toast and creative grain bowls included. I am most enamored of her use of luscious, thick toasted slices of brioche and drizzles of homemade jam to invite the reader into her kitchen and make them wish they were being served one of her breakfast creations (they have a cult following). She’s got a strong savory palette as well. I will definitely be trying her recipe for beet-cured salmon whose jewel tones are stunning and the technique very doable. Perfect for that Brooklynite or west coast cook who is inspired by cutting edge cookery.

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On a dark, damp night in Norwich, book lovers converged on our beloved Norwich Inn to raise money for our treasured Norwich Public Library, and get a jump start on our holiday shopping. Our superb presenters spoke about their favorite picks for gift giving, and once again they sold a lot of books. We thank them for their book review skills. And, thanks to the generosity of the amazing Norwich Bookstore, the event raised around $1,400 for the Norwich Public Library. And in a huge bonus for all of us – their picks created a great list of books for all of us to give and get. (Note: I can personally attest to the laugh out loud (and poignant) funniness of Lucinda Walker’s pick – You’ll Grow Out of It which I immediately picked up and devoured. ~ Lisa Christie)

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This post lists all 25 books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review provided by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make gift-giving easier. We hope you have fun browsing these selections. We also hope that you enjoy holiday shopping from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using the direct links to each selection, and that you are inspired to visit your favorite indie bookseller and purchase some of these in person.imgres-2.jpg

And now, our superb presenters’ picks for holiday gift giving, with their intriguing bios at the end.

Enormous Smallness: A Story of e. e. cummings Cover ImageWho What Where? Cover Image

PICTURE BOOKS FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS 

enormous SMALLNESS: A story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess (2016). Selected by Rob – Poet learns to illuminate world’s beauty.

Who What Where? by Olivier Tallec (2016). Selected by Lucinda – Careful observation brings joy and delight.

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White Cover ImageThe Secret Keepers Cover ImageThe Crossover Cover ImageBooked Cover Image

BOOKS FOR YOUNGER READERS WHO ARE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS AND TEA PARTIES, BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS (perhaps ages 8-12) 

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet (2016). Selected by Liza -Thoughtful writer portrayed by artist fan.

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart (2016). Selected by Liza – Kid propelled plot high action, fun!

Books by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover (2014) and Booked (2016). Selected by Lisa – Author uses verse, sports. Hooks readers.

Soar Cover Image
BOOKS FOR YOUR FAVORITE TWEEN: THOSE NOT YET READY FOR HIGH SCHOOL, BUT WHO ARE THINKING ABOUT BEING THERE (perhaps ages 12-14) 

Soar by Joan Bauer (2016). Selected by Lisa – Baseball-obsessed boy follows heart, changes lives.

March (Trilogy Slipcase Set) Cover Image

BOOKS FOR YOUR FAVORITE HIGH SCHOOLER OR TALES FOR TEENS WHO STILL LIKE TO DRINK HOT CHOCOLATE AND SPEND SNOWY DAYS READING 

March Trilogy by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (assorted years). Selected by Lisa – Amazing man recounts history. Uses pictures.
March: Book One 
March: Book Two 
March: Book Three 
March: (all three in a boxed set)

Simple Cover Image

COOKBOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOWSTORM 

Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors by Diane Henry (2016). Selected by Liza – Elegant, creative ingredient combinations – be inspired!

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders Cover ImageBeing a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide Cover ImageHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Cover ImageThe Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate--Discoveries from a Secret World Cover Image

NON-FICTION OR REFERENCE BOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK AND CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOODSTOVE 

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton (2016). Selected by Lucinda – Spider web farms to enormous sinkholes!

Being a Beast by Charles Foster (2016). Selected by Rob  – Guy lives like animals. Hold tight!

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2016). Selected by Rob – An afflicted, troublesome America, piercingly explained.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (2016). Selected by Sara – Provocative, illuminating, magical, romantic, colorful, transformative.

Born to Run Cover ImageYou'll Grow Out of It Cover Image

MEMOIRS FOR PEOPLE WHO ENJOY LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE’S MEMORIES 

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen (2016). Selected by Sara – Honest, disarming, lyrical, funny, inspirational, insightful.

You’ll Grow out of It by Jessi Klein (2016). Selected by Lucinda – Honest. Raw. Laugh out loud funny.

Homegoing Cover ImageTo the Bright Edge of the World Cover ImageWar and Turpentine Cover ImageNews of the World Cover Image

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE WHO JUST NEEDS AN ENGROSSING NOVEL TO HELP THEM RECOVER FROM THE NOVEMBER ELECTIONS

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016). Selected by Liza – Compelling history, interwoven lives, race, family.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (2016). Selected by Lucinda – Ivey Adventure and love in 1885 Alaska.

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans (2016). Selected by Rob- Vanished Europe, war, painting, wondrously observed.

News of the World by Paullette Jiles (2016). Selected by Sara – Poetic, complex, vivid, heartbreaking, suspenseful, haunting.

The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts Cover ImagePogue's Basics: Money: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) about Beating the System Cover ImagePogue's Basics: Life: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying Your Day Cover ImagePogue's Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying the Technology in Your Life Cover Image

COFFEE TABLE BOOKS AND/OR LITERARY GIFTS FOR YOUR FAVORITE HOSTS/HOSTESSES AND CO-WORKERS

The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts by Maja Safstrom (2016). Selected by Sara – Sweet, charming, playful, quirky, whimsical, unexpected.

Pogue’s Basics Books by David Pogue (assorted years). Selected by Lisa – Never knew you needed to know.

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Our Presenters

Lucinda Walker has been the Director of the Norwich Public Library since 2002 and is grateful for her colleagues and this remarkable community. Besides books, her favorite things include French roast coffee, skiing, Provincetown, storytelling podcasts and Saturday Night Live. Her favorite time to read is at 3 am. Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her poet husband Peter and two amazing kids, Hartley & Lily.

Sara Trimmer has worn many different professional hats, but has always been a reader, an eclectic one. From cookbooks to philosophy to literature and poetry, she chooses books that teach, inspire, transport – is wild about a good story and can read a well constructed sentence over and over and over again.

Rob Gurwitt works at dailyUV.com, where among other things he gets to enjoy three different book blogs as they come in to the site. He cross-country skis, thinks that after a decade of trying he might have figured out pizza crust, and suspects that he’s going to be spending a lot of time lost in books over the next four years.

Lisa Christie is the co-founder/blogger for the Book Jam. In previous times, she was the founder/first Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and USA, literacy programs that help children love books. She currently works part-time as a non-profit consultant, part-time Dartmouth graduate student, full-time mom/wife, and all-the-time believer in the power of books. She lives with her author husband, two superb sons, and a very large Bernese mountain dog. She often dreams of travel.

Lisa Cadow is the co-founder/blogger for the Book Jam, and the founder of Vermont Crepe & Waffle, a food cart serving authentic French crepes. When not reading, traveling or testing recipes for her food blog, Fork on the Road, she works as a health coach for Dartmouth Health Connect, an innovative primary care practice. She lives with her husband, three teens (all of whom are away at college most of the year now), three cats, and a fun border collie.

Liza Bernard is co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore, currently buyer, general manager and chief light-bulb changer. She believes in the power of words to enlighten and educate, as well as entertain, and is heartened by the abundant harvest of new books on a wide spectrum of topics.

Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you enjoy a joyous start to the Holiday Season!

May you find peace, love, friends, and good books. 

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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.

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This week we feature beloved children’s author and illustrator Tomie dePaolaMr. dePaola has been published for over 40 years and has written and/or illustrated nearly 250 books, including Strega Nona, 26 Fairmount Avenue, and Christmas Remembered. Over 15 million copies of his books have sold worldwide. Mr. dePaola and his work have been recognized with many honors including the Smithson Medal from the Smithsonian Institution. The University of Connecticut, Georgetown University and Pratt Institute, among others, have granted him honorary doctoral degrees. In 1999, he was selected for the New Hampshire’s Governor’s Arts Award of Living Treasure. He lives in New London, New Hampshire, with his Airedale terrier, Brontë, and works in a renovated 200-year-old barn.FC9781481420624.JPG

Mr. dePaola will return to the Norwich Bookstore Thanksgiving Weekend from 10:30 am until noon on Saturday, November 26th for his annual book signing. The bookstore will have a surplus of dePaola’s books on hand — both his new The Moon’s Almost Here and his classics. Come and meet Mr. dePaola and get books signed for your special young readers (or for yourself). And now, Mr. dePaola’s answers our three questions.

D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths Cover ImageThe Nutcracker Cover ImageThe Year at Maple Hill Farm Cover ImageLittle Women Cover Image

Johnny Tremain Cover ImageThe Brothers Karamazov Cover ImageHigglety Pigglety Pop!: Or There Must Be More to Life Cover Image

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

As an artist, and as a child: The d’Aulaires, Sheilah Beckett.

In Art School: Martin and Alice Provensen.

As a writer, and as a child: Little Women. In High School: Johnny Tremain. In Art School: The Brothers Karamazov, Higglety Pigglety Pop, and many more.

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

Author: Gertrude Stein, because she really liked artists.
Artist (Illustrator): Jon Klassen

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World Cover ImageMister Monkey Cover ImageRainer Maria Rilke's the Book of Hours: A New Translation with Commentary Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Mister Monkey by Francine Prose
Rilke’s Book of Hours

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Ahhhh, November 9th. No matter what your political persuasion, we are certain we will all be grateful to wake up November 9th freed from political ads. We are also assuming most of you have already decided who has earned your vote, and you are ready to ignore the hype until election day.

So, to help distract us all as these final days of campaigning wind down, we review a few mysteries. Why mysteries? Perhaps because we are thinking of ghosts and thrillers on Halloween. Perhaps because even though we are trying to ignore the election hype, we know, due to the daily news, that we can’t fully engage in difficult prose right now. Perhaps we are just in the mood for a good thriller.

And, because surviving until election day is way too important to leave to the two of us, we asked for help with this post from our favorite booksellers – the Norwich Bookstore staff. Many of them were able to help, and we are very grateful for their reviews.

Happy Halloween and thank you all for voting – Lisa and Lisa

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The Case of the Missing Books Cover ImageThe Case of the Missing Books, a Mobile Library Mystery by Ian Sansom (2007) – A cast of eccentric characters populates this series of books set in Tumdrum, Ireland. Israel Armstrong is an outsider about to embark on an exciting new career—driving a mobile library. Fans of Waking Ned Devine and Doc Martin will wonder how they’ve lived this long without reading these quirky mysteries. ~ Beth Reynolds, Norwich Bookstore and Norwich Public Library

The Wild Inside: A Novel of Suspense Cover ImageWild Inside by Christine Carbo (2015) – This dramatic crime novel is spent in Montana’s majestic Glacier National Park. When he was 14, Ted Systead’s dad was dragged screaming from a campsite by a grizzly. Now Systead’s a special agent for the Department of the Interior investigating the death of a man who was tied up BEFORE he was mauled by a bear. Ms. Carbo has a good sense of the wildness of human nature AND the wilderness that surrounds us. ~ Carin Pratt, Norwich Bookstore

The Trespasser Cover ImageThe Trespasser by Tana French (2016) Yes, it’s long, but Tana French’s new Dublin Murder Squad mystery is so well written it doesn’t drag. Paranoid detective Antoinette Conway has to find out why a young woman was conked on the head next to a table set for a romantic dinner.  At the same time, she is fighting a lot of her colleagues in the department who seem hellbent on driving her out of the force. French is the master of the police interrogation room, and her mysteries are always about much more than the case at hand.  ~ Carin Pratt, Norwich Bookstore

The Girl from Venice Cover ImageThe Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith (2016) – One night towards the end of WWII a fisherman fishing in the lagoon off Venice comes across the body of a lovely young woman.The woman turns out to be not at all dead, and what follows is a romp through the environs of Venice and the world of partisans, Fascists, the SS and even Mussolini. With a love story tossed in, everything comes together for a delightful read. ~ Penny McConnel, Norwich Bookstore

The Nature of the Beast: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel Cover ImageLouise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Audio Books (assorted years) – If you love the Louise Penny series and have a hard time waiting for each new instalment of Inspector Gamache, try revisiting the earlier books in the series through an audiobook experience. For me, narrator Ralph Cosham so embodies the true voice of M. Gamache and the villagers of Three Pines that when he passed away before the instalment of the 11th book in the series, I felt as though a part of Gamache had died with him. ~ Katie Kitchel, Norwich Bookstore

I Let You Go Cover ImageI Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (2016) – For me, this was the thriller of summer 2016. Written by a retired UK police woman, this is better than than the books it gets compared to – Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of a car accident and desperate to heal from the loss of her child and other aspects of her past. The novel also watches a pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of a hit-and-run. You will like the characters, you will feel each plot twist, and you will lose a day of productivity (or a night of election news) as you finish this novel. Have fun! ~ Lisa Christie

The Woman in Cabin 10 Cover ImageThe Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2016) – This fast-paced mystery is sure to keep readers sweating through the cold, gray days of autumn – and beyond. The suspense begins immediately when we meet Lo Blacklock , a twenty-something travel writer, who is burgled in her London apartment as she prepares for her departure on an all expenses paid cruise through the Norwegian Fjords. She is hurtled into a constant state of uncertainty and anxiety that she has to manage as she hob nobs with the fancy passengers and press corps on the maiden voyage of the “Aurora”. When Lo believes that she witnesses a murder in the cabin next to hers, the question isn’t “Who dun it?”, but instead “Did it really happen?” The Woman in Cabin 10 is the latest in a series of page-turners that feature imperfect, unreliable yet somehow winsome protagonists. A page-turner that will keep you “cruising” (apologies for the pun) and wanting to finish the tale all in one read. If you still crave more at the end, don’t miss In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware’s first bestseller that was published in 2015. ~Lisa Cadow

Nutshell Cover ImageNutshell by Ian McKewan (2016) – Though I must insert the caveat that I haven’t quite finished this slim volume, I can confidently assert that this mystery is treasure. Told from the completely original perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. A modern day interpretation of Hamlet, Nutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed.  ~Lisa Cadow (And, this review is COMPLETELY SECONDED by Lisa Christie who has finished this slim novel)

Presumption of Guilt Cover ImagePresumption of Guilt by Archer Mayor (2016) – Archer Mayor has brought back the memorable “Tag Man” along with his daughter for this fast-paced mystery. A body is found in cement that was poured over 40 years ago, and Gunther and his team need to reconstruct the actions and activities of several individuals over the span of time to figure out ‘who done it!’ I devoured it in a day… ~ Liza Bernard, Norwich Bookstore

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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.

Willy Loman's Reckless Daughter or Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances Cover ImageSolitary Bee Cover Image

This “3 Questions” features two poets Elizabeth Powell and Chelsea Woodard. These award winning poets have authored numerous volumes of poetry. Both authors will visit the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont at 7 pm on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 to discuss poetry and their latest collections. The event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.

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Elizabeth Powell

Elizabeth A. I. Powell’s second book Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances won the Robert Dana Prize in poetry. A Pushcart Prize winner, Ms. Powell has also received a Vermont Council on the Arts grants and a Yaddo fellowship. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Black Warrior Review, Ecotone, Harvard Review, Handsome, Hobart, Indiana Review, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Slope, Sugarhouse Review, Ploughshares, Post Road, and elsewhere. Born in New York City, she has lived in Vermont since 1989 with her four children.

A New Selected Poems Cover ImageNine Stories Cover ImageThe Nick Adams Stories Cover Image

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

Galway Kinnell’s Selected Poems….my grandmother gave it to me and the musicality and lyricism  combined with the depth of meaning and metaphor totally blew my mind permanently as a 15 year old. Prior to reading that book, I had the usual suspects, and I had spent my young childhood listening to a record album called something like “The Wit of John F. Kennedy”, and I think listening endlessly and obsessively to that gave me a real sense of tuning in to speech patterns and cadences.

Also, I like what Charles Simic says about good lines of  poetry, that they are like good jokes in phrasing and timing. I grew up also listening to a lot of Groucho Marx and Richard Pryor. The Book of Lists was also important. I love list poems now.

But in terms of books, JD Salinger’s Nine Stories was and is important to my sensibility, how to come at the truth  from an angle.

As a young person I loved Ernest Hemingway’s The Nick Adams Stories. It showed me the perfect sentence. It taught me “that everything is 7/8 below the surface.”

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

Walt Whitman because he contains multitudes and I like that!

Fortune Smiles: Stories Cover ImageI Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems Cover ImageJesus' Son Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

chelsea woodard - writer, editor, poet, critic and translator

Chelsea Woodard

Chelsea Woodard received her MFA from the Johns Hopkins University and her PhD from the University of North Texas. She earned a BA in Visual Arts and English from Union College. Her poems have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Southwest Review, Best New Poets, Blackbird, 32 Poems and other journals. She currently teaches in New Hampshire where she lives with her husband, Pete.

An Eco-Acoustic Reading of Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist Cover ImageThe Canterbury Tales Cover ImageRonia, the Robber's Daughter Cover Image

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

Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist has had a large influence on me. The fact that, while he is looking downward and backward in the poems, “digging” into the details of his personal and familial history, he is always looking beyond those things into new territory as well, trying to make whatever “darkness” he finds “echo” somehow. His echoing darkness, to me, is a very resonant image for poetry. Reading the Canterbury Tales in college and then re-reading them, as a graduate student, years later also had a big impact. I was astounded and still am by the music of the Tales, the grittiness of the detail, and the unexpected pathos. Chaucer’s rhyme royal is stunning. I felt, reading the Tales, that I was able to see such a vividly defined worldview through the pilgrims’ stories. I also love how Chaucer gives the female characters such agency, and always read him in the Tales as a sort of pioneer feminist. There are also numerous children’s books that have been formative. One in particular is a book by the Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren, called Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. I still keep a copy on my bookshelf. Lindgren’s descriptions of the forest and its inhabitants have always stuck with me––the feeling that there are things lurking in the undergrowth both beautiful and terrifying, the sense of awe for the natural world that she expresses even in a story meant for children.
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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Probably Anthony Hecht. From everything I’ve heard, he was incredibly wise and dignified, and I think his writing is imbued with such grace, intelligence, and gravitas. Also sadness. I would love to sit and talk with him about life, or history, or writing. He was one of the great greats. I wish I could have met him. Second would be Geoffrey Chaucer.

We Are as Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on the Quest for a New America Cover ImageThe Wynona Stone Poems Cover ImageThe Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales Cover ImageThe Last Illusion Cover Image3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

A creative nonfiction book called We Are as Gods by Kate Daloz, about the back to the land movement in the 1970s. A friend recommended her book, and I went to her talk in Peterborough this summer––it’s a fascinating and vivid story. Caki Wilkinson’s most recent book, The Wynona Stone Poems, The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales (which I have not started but am looking forward to), Gene Weingarten’s collection, The Fiddler in the Subway, and The Last Illusion, by Porochista Khakpour.

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Displays at the Norwich Bookstore and the Norwich Public Library during last month’s Banned Books Week reminded us that many beloved books would not have reached us had banning succeeded. Thus, we write today’s post in gratitude for those librarians, booksellers, parents, and teachers who keep banned books circulating. And now, we review SOME (and only some) of our favorite banned books. (Honestly, the lists of what has been banned are pretty incredible and this post could continue for awhile if we had more space, and you had more time.)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Cover ImageThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003) – This book was banned due to “profanity and atheism”. We caught the profanity when we read it, and didn’t really blink. But somehow,when we think back to enjoying this book, we can’t remember the atheism. What we do remember is a compelling main character who reminded us that being different can be a gift, and that disabilities challenge but also are only part of what makes people amazing. We are grateful this book made it to our reading shelves. And, we know of quite a few lovers of Broadway shows who are grateful as well.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Cover ImageFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) – The banned book site states Fun Home is most often challenged due to “violence and graphic images”.  This information produced chuckles because Fun Home is a “graphic” memoir. We also chuckled often while actually reading this memoir because Ms. Bechdel treats the fraught material of her childhood with humor and grace.  We understand some readers may be squeamish about her unabashed look at suicide, homosexuality, and other themes. But honestly, we believe any squeamishness reinforces the need to read this poignant novel. We note that Broadway also loved this book. Suddenly, we sense a theme in this post — wish to create an award winning play? Adapt a banned book.

The Bluest Eye Cover ImageThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1994) – This book makes one of the Lisas all time best book lists; so, banning it feels personal. We have a hard time understanding how a novel exploring how racism makes a girl wish she had a different color skin could possibly be anything other than enlightening. However, The Bluest Eye is often banned due to “sexually explicit” material, and “containing controversial issues”.  We say bring on the controversy and learn.

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This all-time “must read” for the Book Jam Lisas is often banned due to “offensive language and racism”.  To this we counter, isn’t talking about (and eliminating racism) the point of this book?

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Cover ImageNickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) – This book is banned due to its “political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”.  We argue that reading something written by those who don’t share your political views is worthwhile, and perhaps especially helpful during this US election year. More importantly however, we argue this book about Ms. Ehrenreich’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a minimum wage is a must read for anyone making policy, employing people, renting apartments to people, doctoring those without insurance, etc…

Of Mice and Men Cover ImageOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) This was banned “due to offensive language, racism, violence”. We love it for its ability to inspire sobs in a few pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 1) Cover ImageHarry Potter series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – Banned “due to satanism”; somehow we missed the satanic references while reading this series. Perhaps we were having too much fun with the magic and the lessons of friendship, loyalty, and standing up to bullies (after all what is Voldemort but an extreme bully?). We are grateful that these books survived banning so that thousands of children around the world could learn that reading is fun.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry  by Mildred Taylor (1976) – This Newbery Award winning classic makes the banned lists “due to offensive language”. We feel learning from this story and the abuse suffered by the main characters due to their skin color overshadow any offensive language. We also believe the banners definitely missed the fact this book provides an intimate look at life in the USA as an African American girl.

Well, we could keep going; but, we will stop here, with one quick closing thought. While we love the fact everyone uses reviews and recommendations to determine what books to consume (hopefully, the Book Jam helps you with this), we truly abhor the idea of someone deciding that controversial books will be unavailable to anyone rather than merely reviewed. So, thank you again to all those educators out there who ensure books remain on shelves to influence all of us.

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Hello, and Happy Autumn. While the leaves in Vermont have not quite changed, we are so happy to be back recommending great books for you to read. Luckily, the end of summer brought us many books that we are excited to tell you about this Autumn. Most of our reviews will appear in future posts about politics, cooking, tough topics, and mysteries. But for now, we highlight two books to help you end September with a great book in your hands. (Note: We are surprised neither of us picked from our favorite category of adult fiction to share on this first autumnal post; we will spend some time thinking about why before our next post.)search-2.jpg

51ec0bx4i4l-_sx328_bo1204203200_In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France by Susan Herrmann Loomis (Hardcover 2015, Paperback 2016) –  If you are looking for a little more “je ne sais quoi” in the kitchen inspiration department or simply are craving the feeling of having someone serve you a cafe au lait of stories and  secrets about French cooking, then this is the book for you. Reading this made me feel as if I had pulled up a chair at Loomis’ table in Louviers and was having a conversation with an old friend about all she had learned from villagers, butchers, neighbors, and facile home cooks since moving to this northern French town several decades ago. It also inspired me to get out my mixing bowl and make “Madame Korn’s Quick Lemon Cake” and to get out my saucepan to whip up the delicious “Crisp Green Salad with Poached Eggs.”  The majority of the eighty-five recipes she includes are simple and use everyday ingredients. The stories she tells of her life in France are charming and take the reader on a lovely kitchen tour of a country that puts it food at the center of the cultural table. ~Lisa Cadow

Prisoner B-3087 Cover ImagePrisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz (2013) – If you are looking for a book for your pre-teen and you to read together (or for either of you to read alone), please choose this piece of history.  Prisoner B-3087 is a moving book about the holocaust that my 13-year-old (yes, he is my reluctant reader) shared with me after declaring “this is probably the best book I’ve read”. Mr. Gratz takes the true story of Jack Gruener, who was moved through ten concentration camps including Auschwitz, and with slight poetic license creates a tale of survival amongst unspeakable horrors that must be remembered. Yes, it is depressing, but it is also uplifting; Mr. Gruener survived, as did his wife, and they now dedicate their lives to educating children about The Holocaust and WWII. You may not be able to see them in person, but you can read this book. ~ Lisa Christie

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