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Hello Book Jam followers:

This is a reminder that the reviews you count on to keep reading great books have moved.

Our new location is The BOOK JAM . (You can also just click here – https://www.bookjamvermont.com/.)

To subscribe to the new site, complete this form (or click here — https://gmail.us20.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=d5fe74834d576ddb09db46ece&id=c1e4475648).

THANK YOU — Lisa and Lisa

 

 

 

Hello everyone — The Book Jam has a new and improved address. To reach us, please visit us here or type in — https://www.bookjamvermont.com/.

We will keep this site up for reference purposes only — from this moment onwards, there will be no new posts here.

So to find our reviews visit our new site  or type in https://www.bookjamvermont.com/.

THANK YOU and HAPPY READING!

 

We are very excited to present this week’s “3 Questions” with author and Dartmouth lecturer Saul Lelchuk. Mr. Lelchuk grew up in the Upper Valley, earned a Masters degree from Dartmouth College and a Bachelors degree from Amherst College. He currently lives in Berkeley, California.

Mr. Lelchuk will appear at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 10 at the Norwich Bookstore to discuss his debut novel Save Me From Dangerous Men. A debut novel that Kirkus, in a starred review, called “A timely and totally badass debut.” In another starred review, Publishers Weekly said, “This intelligent, action-packed thriller will resonate with readers as it touches on such themes as domestic violence, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the intrusive potential of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence…But the book’s real appeal stems from its powerful, distinctive protagonist.” We would like to note that many reviews compare his protagonist, Nikki Griffin, to Lisbeth Salander and Jack Reacher. We are pretty certain this ensures there will be a second book; but, you can ask him in person if you are lucky enough to attend this event.

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This event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat. If you can’t make the event, the Norwich Bookstore staff can ask Mr. Lelchuk to personalize Save Me From Dangerous Men for you if you contact them in advance.

And now, our “3 Questions”:

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

I’ll never forget the first time I read WhiteFang, by Jack London. Not just the pure adventure of it, the delightfully exotic setting of the Yukon Territory and Klondike Gold Rush, how it opened a door to a fascinating historical time and place that I had never encountered. It was also one of the first times I realized how powerful a book, a story, could really be: I didn’t want to do anything until I had finished it. I didn’t do anything, in fact, until I had. There’s a reason why London was the single most popular American writer of his time, after all, and this book showed me, plain and simple, how the written word can be transportive in a way that really is unmatched.

I discovered Graham Greene in sixth grade, reading in the British Council Library (my family was living in Jerusalem that year), and he’s been one of my favorite authors ever since. I don’t think that first book I read, Brighton Rock, is necessarily his best – I think personally the Heart of the Matter or End of the Affair would take that honor – but nonetheless I’ll always have a special fondness for Brighton Rock. It taught me so much: how to tell a story, how to play hope and despair and different emotions against each other to achieve narrative and tension, how to utterly master a single setting (in this case, bringing such wonderful menace to a seaside holiday town), and how, in great fiction, a character’s anguished inner turmoil can be every bit as captivating as anything external.

The Maltese Falcon is still probably my favorite detective novel of all time, although Trouble is My Business is right up there. But I think that Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, which I’ve read about a half-dozen times starting as a boy, opened my eyes to the kind of grand operatic delight that a detective novel could be. The language and narrative skill, the characters and the way he moves them around within San Francisco’s streets, the final, agonizing decision that forces poor Sam Spade to pit his humanness – his empathy, his heart, his desire, everything he wants – against the fundamental of who he is, his nature, as a detective – it’s just a wonderful book. Now, as a writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area and writing in that genre, I still constantly ask myself how Hammett did what he did.

If you’ve noticed, these three books all stem from my youth, and that’s no coincidence – I think in some ways, no matter what I’ve gone on to read, it’s very hard for anything to be as vivid and formative as books read early in life.

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

I was named after Saul Bellow, and although my family knew him well when I was a boy, I never had a real conversation with him as an adult, and then he died while I was in college, although by that point I hadn’t seen him for a number of years. Bellow was someone so brilliant – to read one of his novels is to learn, page by page, about an astounding number of things – not just of people, of character and emotion, but pages filled with this kind of dazzling minutia of absorbed knowledge, everything from men’s style and fashion, to philosophy, to music, to linguistics, to botany… I would very much love the chance to have gotten to talk with him one on one, as an adult.

The Zebra-Striped Hearse (Lew Archer Series #10) Cover ImageHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Cover ImageThe Only Story: A novel (Vintage International) Cover ImageThe Ballad of the Sad Cafe: and Other Stories Cover ImageThe Refugees Cover ImageWith Shuddering Fall: A Novel Cover ImageA Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel Cover ImageThe Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman; Volume 2 Cover ImageAllan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Yikes.. my bedside table has seemed to evolve into a horizontal bookshelf! At the moment I’m reading a trilogy of Ross Macdonald novels (The Zebra-Striped Hearse has been my favorite so far), Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (read the first one, loved it, and immediately picked this one up), The Only Story by Julian Barnes, a book of Carson McCullers short stories, The Ballad of the Sad Café, and another collection, The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, With Shuddering Fall by Joyce Carol Oates, and halfway through A Gentleman in Moscow, which I absolutely love. I also just picked up Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman, because somehow I’ve never read this, and a great biography of Allan Pinkerton by James MacKay.

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, 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. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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We are very excited to present this week’s “3 Questions” with the writer Emily Bernard. Professor Bernard was born and grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and is now a Vermont resident. She received her PhD in American studies from Yale University. She has been the recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation, the NEH, and a W. E. B. Du Bois Resident Fellowship at Harvard University. Her essays have been published in numerous journals and anthologies; currently she is the Julian Lindsay Green and Gold Professor of English at the University of Vermont, where she has been a faculty member since 2001.

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Ms. Bernard will appear at 7 pm on Wednesday, March 27 to discuss her latest book Black is the Body. This collection of twelve essays explores how race is the story of her life. As Maureen Corrigan of Fresh Air stated in her review, “Of the 12 essays here, there’s not one that even comes close to being forgettable. Bernard’s language is fresh, poetically compact, and often witty … Bernard proves herself to be a revelatory storyteller of race in America who can hold her own with some of those great writers she teaches.”

And now, our “3 Questions”:

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

The three books that have shaped me as a writer have to be: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, and Sarah Phillips by Andrea Lee. I read all three of them when I was young, and their defiant black girl protagonists who were determined to live lives different from the ones their parents’ planned for them were crucial to my self-development as a writer and a person. All of them are daring stories right down to the level of the sentence. The language in Their Eyes Were Watching God ranges from the thundering resonance of the Old Testament to the earthy vernacular of the Deep South. The piercing rhythms of Jamaica Kincaid’s sentences startle and penetrate me now as much as they did when I first read the book. The protagonist in Sarah Phillips was the first black female character I ever met in whom I saw myself. I’ll probably spend my whole life trying to match the elegance of Andrea Lee’s prose.

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

I don’t know if I would be able to keep my hands from trembling long enough to hold a cup of coffee steady, but I would love to be in the presence of Walt Whitman. Like his poetry, Whitman was full of passionate energy, so I’m not sure how patient he would be the domestic ritual of a 21st century coffee klatch. I think I would suggest that we take our coffees with us on a walk through some tiny, quiet town in Vermont in the fall, or a street fair in Brooklyn in the summer, or anywhere, anytime. And I would definitely want to meet Whitman only in the present—I’m confident his attitudes about race would have matured with the times.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

I am deep into Becoming by Michelle Obama. Next up is Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger (I was lucky to get an advance copy), a book that reminds me of the power and necessity of intimate friendship between women.

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, 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. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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March came in like a lion in Vermont, and we hope it goes out like a lamb. In the meantime, we can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with great books from Irish authors (and Irish Canadians). Thank you to our superb friend and great author Sarah Stewart Taylor for your recommendations; we are so looking forward to reading your next book, which we know is partially set in Ireland.

Conversations with Friends: A Novel Cover ImageConversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (2017). As a woman of a certain age facing a life with teenaged sons and trying to figure out what marriage after 20 years looks like, I realize I have forgotten how fraught, exciting, and lonely life as a college student/recent college grad can be.  This intense novel by Ireland’s Sally Rooney reminded me of that life phase in a delightful way. In it, Frances, an aspiring poet, and her performance artist partner / lover Bobbi are befriended by an older couple. Complications ensue, including the perhaps predictable affairs and strivings for more by everyone. I read it in one long sitting, as could have perhaps been predicted for a novel by the Winner of the 2017 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Enjoy! (We have heard her next novel Normal People is even better and won the 2019 Costa Novel Prize; you’ll have to ask your friends in Europe to send it to you though or preorder it from your favorite local bookstore as it is not available in the USA until April 16.)

Milkman: A Novel Cover ImageMilkman: A Novel by Anna Burns(2018).  We highly recommend listening to the audio version of this Man Booker award-winning book. Not only does the narrator’s irresistible Irish accent transport the listener to Belfast in the 1970’s but her conversational delivery invites the listener into this difficult story of an18-year-old being sexually harassed by a much older man (the eponymous “milkman”). The author’s intentionally long, run-on sentences are delivered in a way that the listener is able to sink in her teeth and truly feel the Terror in Ireland – though the decade is never directly named –  a time when partisan politics came to a head (think America modern day), infusing daily life with bombings and fear. This book makes one wonder if the shaming of accused women will ever change or if perhaps continuing to spotlight an awareness of this timeless storyline will ultimately lead us to an age of equality.

FC9780140186475.jpgThe Dubliners by James Joyce (1914) – If you’ve ever wished to get to know Joyce in a more casual “meet and greet” kind of way before committing to a multi week journey with him through his denser works such as Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this is the book for you. It is a stunning collection of short stories that concludes with his most famous (nearly) novella “The Dead.” There are echoes of the voices of Tolstoy and Chekov in these cautionary tales, many of which deal with themes of memories, regret, missed opportunities, and times gone by. It is fascinating to consider that Joyce wrote this work in exile while living in Trieste, a city where he spent most of his adult life, given how effectively he captures poignant scenes of middle class Irish life in the late twentieth century.

Our Homesick Songs Cover ImageOur Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper (2018) – The fish have left Newfoundland and so has pretty much every person in this lovely hopeful novel about how things change.  As the New York Times said  “Lyrical…the town is filled with magic, and so is Hooper’s writing…Our Homesick Songs is a eulogy not just to a town but a lifestyle – one built on waves, and winds, and fish, and folklore.” We include it here as the novel is peopled by Irish Canadians, and because sometimes you just need to read a book that leaves you hopeful about the human spirit. Thank you Susan Voake, retired elementary school librarian extraordinaire and current superb indie bookseller for this recommendation.

To finish, we highlight some Irish recipes from our local gem of a bakery King Arthur FlourIrish Soda Bread and Irish Brown Bread. Long may we all bake and read.


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Image result for images of vermont town meetingThe first Tuesday of March means Town Meeting Day all over Vermont. (Yes, some towns move it to other days to make it more convenient; but in theory, we meet and vote on Tuesday.) To us, it really is democracy live – everyone in every town is invited to attend, and many many people show up and discuss what is important for that town in the upcoming year. Town and school budgets are discussed and passed (or not), referendums are offered and passed (or not). You see people you normally do not pass during the course of your regular day. In some towns, eating together before or after all the town politics is essential. It truly is a reminder of an adage closely associated with former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill – “all politics are local.

So, in honor of this important Vermont tradition, we are reviewing a book about politics, a book about Vermont, and a Vermont-oriented cookbook.  We hope they all inspire you to have a discussion with your neighbor about needs in your town, to visit Vermont soon, and/or to cook a great meal.

Finally, if you are a Vermonter, VOTE! And by the way, Happy Birthday Vermont (March 4); you look good for something born in 1791.

In Sight Cover ImageSabra Field: In Sight by Sabra Field (2004). The art of Sabra Field captures what we like best about Vermont — the varied landscapes and its people — in colorful and simply complicated prints. We love her work and we think you will love this look at many of her pieces, enhanced with her explanations of how they came about. A perfect read for artists interested in someone’s process, for art lovers, and for people who love Vermont.

All the King's Men Cover ImageAll the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1974). If you somehow missed this until you, you can read this classic and be grateful your town is not run like mid twentieth century Louisiana. There are many reasons for this classic novel’s longevity and its Pulitzer Prize – great writing, intriguing and unique characters, and superb descriptions of the deep south. This tale of ambition and power set in the Depression is widely considered the finest novel ever written about American politics.

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Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup by Katie Webster (2015). One of the many perks of living in Vermont is being lucky enough to stash away a gallon or two of maple syrup after the annual February/March sugaring season. And mind you, we don’t just drizzle this sweet stuff over pancakes – we find ways to add it to everything including morning coffee, a cold glass of milk, spicy chili, savory soups, crisps, cobblers, and even salad dressings. This lovely book will add to the myriad of ways cooks know to use the nectar of the woods. Webster includes delicious, original recipes for delicacies such as Kale Skillet Salad with Walnuts and Maple, Sugar Season Hot Cocoa, Sap Baked Beans, Layered Beet and Carrot Salad, and Dutch Baby Pancakes with Maple and Rhubarb Compote. The only downside of adding this cookbook to a collection is that readers may run out of their syrup supply before being able to resupply in the spring.

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Image result for images for black history month 2019Every year, we use Black History Month as an excuse to audit the diversity of the authors we review. Why?  Well, 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 during our next year of reviews. Our latest audit results are discussed below today’s new reviews of four – oops five – great books (one each of adult fiction, adult nonfiction, YA, children’s, memoir).

 

Things Fall Apart: A Novel Cover ImageThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) – In this lucky reader’s life there have been a few books that find their way into my hands that upon turning the last page cause me to reverently and gently place them down, to blink and slowly exhale, and then to turn my gaze back out upon the world feeling that my view has changed. This is one such book. Things Fall Apart is a novel set in precolonial Africa towards the end of the 1800’s and chronicles the effect of the the arrival of British missionaries and government on village life. It is the story of Okonkwo, a brave and powerful but flawed warrior of the Igbo clan in Nigeria. The tale is told from the deep “inside” of his clan. The “Obi” (main house), the religion, the lore, the language, family structure and the traditions are shown through his eyes and those of his family and friends. The reader is transported to another world and way of life where pythons are considered sacred and yams represent riches. It is also one where social order and connection is maintained by full moon ceremonies, wrestling, foo-foo feasts, the power of ancestral gods, and the reality of banishment. All of which is threatened by the arrival of white people. This novel explores the reality of an ever changing world while forcing us to consider what we lose along with that change. It also pushes us to consider the complexity of leadership, community, justice, and what it means to respect our fellow humans. It is not hard to understand why it is considered by many as one of the most important 100 books of all time. ~ Lisa Cadow

On the Come Up Cover ImageOn the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019) – Ms. Thomas’s second novel for Young Adults proves she is not a one hit wonder. Once again, she handles tough topics such as teens figuring out who they are, race, stereotypes, violence, and addiction with compassion and fearless honesty. In this outing, 16-year-old Bri wants to rap and be a rap star more than anything – including doing well on the ACT to ensure she enters an amazing college. But, any progress at all is hard when your dad is long dead from gang violence, your mom just lost her job and is working to remain eight years sober, there is no heat in your house or food in the fridge, and the only job your brother, the brilliant college grad, can get is delivering pizzas for money your family desperately needs. Due to an incident at school, and other conspiring events, Bri finds herself going viral and being unfairly viewed as a hoodlum. The question for her becomes  – what if a being a hoodlum helps you make it? ENJOY!

A Good Kind of Trouble Cover ImageA Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (2019) – A great book for younger  readers (perhaps 4th-8th grade?) that helps them understand Black Lives Matter, while also providing insights into navigating middle school, friendships, teachers, and the ever-evolving process of figuring out exactly who you are. Ms. Ramee’s main character, a 7th grade African American girl named Shay, hates to get in trouble, doesn’t understand her older sister’s insistence being black is embedded in certain traits, and honestly really just wants to get out of Middle School with her friendships intact, her grades their usual A+ level, and ideally with a cute boyfriend. The world is conspiring against all her wishes, and her hand is forced when a local white police woman is acquitted for shooting a black man. Shay will make you assess what is important for you to stand up for, how your unique traits will manifest your stand, and ideally to actually stand up for something. I hate to compare it to The Hate U Give, but Ms. Ramee’s debut novel is reminiscent of Ms. Thomas’s unflinching look at what it is like to be a Black adolescent in the USA today, and that is high praise. ~ Lisa Christie

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist Cover ImageWell That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey (2018) – Our nonfiction review highlights Ms. Ramsey, of MTV fame, who uses her book to explore the lessons of her life as a social media star and activist. She discusses how her life changed dramatically once her YouTube video “What White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls” went viral — twelve million views viral. She is simultaneously funny and serious about the importance of social justice, and what we can all do better in our efforts to help others.  A great book for anyone in your life who would like to see their passions and messages spread. A great reminder we can all do a better job communicating. And just a lovely look at someone who would probably be very fun and enlightening to have as a friend, and who inspires us all to do more. ~ Lisa Christie

And again, if you haven’t yet read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, we suggest you get started.

And now the audit results:

During the twelve months since our February 2018 audit, we reviewed 202 (up from 164 reviewed last year) authors.

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.

Some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 55% of the authors we featured. 32% of all authors we featured were white women from the USA, and 8% of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. 4% of our featured authors were Latinas and 6% were Asian women; and, 12% of the authors were Black women from around the world.

There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a quarter (23%) of the authors we featured were white men from the USA. 8% of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. 7% of the authors were black men (from anywhere in the world). Very few authors we featured were Asian men (fewer than .5%) or Latinos (2%) or Middle Eastern men (2%).

Adding men and women together, 36% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was some geographic diversity — a quarter (26%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (mostly Canada, the UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (13% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were Black.

To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 36% of authors in 2018, 32% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that over half (64%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were white authors. And while we are curious if our percentages are greater than the percentages of authors of color who are actually published in the USA each year (as this affects the pool from which we can select books), once again, we vow to review a greater diversity of authors.

Happy Black History Month.

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