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April showers (or in Vermont this spring – snow) bring poetry.

Since poets’ words work best, instead of an official review, for each of our recommended collections of poetry, we are including one of our favorite poems (or a portion of a poem) from that collection. We hope these tastes of poetry will encourage everyone to read more poems throughout the year – not just during April’s National Poetry Month celebrations in the USA. Note: “poem in your pocket day” happens April 26th; maybe one of these poems will be the one you carry that day.

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FC9781524733117.jpgPoet in Spain: Frederico Garcia Lorca, new translation by Sarah Arvio (2018) – This new translation of the work of Federico Garcia Lorca, one of the greatest poets and playwrights of the 20th Century (according to his bio), is presented in Spanish first, then in the English translation.

Delirium

The day blurs in the silent fields

Bee-eaters sigh as they fly

The blue and white distance is delirious

The land has its arms thrown wide

Ay lord lord All this is too much

FC9781555978136.jpgWade in the Water by Tracy Smith (2018) – Our review wouldn’t be complete without including the newest book by powerful woman and current Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy Smith. Her collection showcases minority American voices ranging from immigrants, to refugees, to Civil War era African-American soldiers (in the form of their letters) and shines a spotlight on these citizen’s experiences. The poem we highlight opens her book and lands the reader in a moment of time in Brooklyn, New York in the 1980’s, full of beautiful food, luscious words, youth, and innocence.

Garden of Eden (condensed for reasons of space, with apologies to the poet)

What a profound longing I feel,  just this very instant, For the Garden of Eden On Montague Street Where I seldom shopped, Usually only after therapy, Elbow sore at the crook From a hand basket filled To capacity. The glossy pastries! Pomegranate, persimmon, quince!

Once, a bag of black, beluga Lentils split a trail behind me While I labored to find A tea they refused to carry. It was Brooklyn. My thirties.

Everyone I know was living The same desolate luxury, Each ashamed of the same things: Innocence and privacy. I’d lug Home the paper bags, doing Bank-balance math and counting days. I’d squint into it, or close my eyes And let it slam me in the face —- The known sun setting On the dawning century.

FC9781614293316.jpgThe Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy edited by John Brehm (2017). One person we know, reads a poem a day from this gorgeous book. This daily practice has enriched her year. Below is a small poem of quiet appreciation touches on several of this reviewer’s biggest loves: birds, bubbling soup, and rays of sunshine,

It’s All Right (condensed for reasons of space, with apologies to the poet) by William Stafford (1914-1993)

Someone you trusted has treated you bad. Someone has used you to vent their ill temper. Did you expect anything different? Your work – better than some others’ – has languished, neglected. Or a job you tried was too hard, and you failed. Maybe weather or bad luck spoiled what you did. That grudge, held against you for years after you patched up, has flared, and you’ve lost your friend for a time. Things at home aren’t so good; on the job your spirits have sunk. But just when the worst bears down you find a pretty bubble in your soup at noon, and outside at work, a bird says, “Hi!”

Slowly the sun creeps along the floor; it is coming your way. It touches your shoe.

FC9780062435521.jpgRon Rash Poems: New and Selected by Ron Rash (2016) – When we saw a collection of poems by the author of the Cove, we had to peruse.  We found this gem among so many about life in Appalachia.

The Country Singer Explains Her Muse (condensed for reasons of space, with apologies to the poet)

Say you’re on a bus between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, pills that got you through the show slow to wear off, so you stare out the window, searching for darkened houses where you know women sleep who live a life you once lived, but now sing about.

Let them dream as you write out words and a chords to find a song made to get them through their day, get you through a sleepless night somewhere on a bus between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

FC9780807025581.jpgBullets Into Bells: Poets and citizens respond to gun violence edited by Brian Clements (2017). This collection consists of poems by well-known and lesser-known poets, with a response to each penned by a different person affected by the particulars that poem explores.  Together they are doubly powerful.

A Poem for Pulse by Jameson Fitzpatrick (an excerpt, condensed for reasons of space, with apologies to the poet)

Last night I went to a gay bar with a man I love a little. After dinner we had a drink…While I slept, a man went to a gay club with two guns and killed forty-nine people. Today in an interview, his father said he had been disturbed recently by the sight of two men kissing…

We must love one another whether or not we die. Love can’t block a bullet but neither can it be shot down, and love is, for the most part, what makes us – in Orlando and in Brooklyn and in Kabul. We will be everywhere, always; there’s nowhere else for us or you, to go. Anywhere you run in this world, love will be there to greet you. Around any corner, there might be two men. Kissing.

FC9780316266574.jpgI’m Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Very fun poems, with funny illustrations for kids, including… The Secret of My Art 

“It’s a beautiful whale”, my teacher declared. “This drawing will get a gold star!”

“It’s a beautiful whale”, my father declared. “Your talents will carry you far!”

“It’s a beautiful whale”, my mother declared. “What a wonderful artist you are!”

Well, maybe it is a beautiful whale… But I was trying to draw a guitar.

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Once again we highlight books that in some fashion address sexual assault as part National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. We promise each of these books is a great book in its own right; we just unite them here because they each in some way help us think about how to prevent violence in both words and deeds. They also provide an excuse to once again highlight the important work of WISE — our local organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence through survivor-centered advocacy, prevention, education, and mobilization for social change. In this age of #metoo, we still believe in the power of books to provide greater understanding of sexual assault, and its costs for all of us.

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FC9780062362599.jpgHunger by Roxane Gay (2017) – I don’t think I have ever read such a well-written, honest, and brutal account of sexual assault and its aftermath. This sounds like a horrific reason to pick up a book; and, it is horrid to think that the author endured a brutal and life-altering assault at age 12. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal and punctuated with self-loathing. That said, her story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than horror; this memoir is also filled with hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, mistakes, social commentary, and always, always her body and her relationship with it. If you wish to understand how sexual assault affects people long after the crime, Ms. Gay will help. If you have ever tried to explain your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If you have never understood this relationship, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese often feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift to you. If you have a complicated relationship with your body, Ms. Gay shows you are not alone. If you just want to spend some time with a talented writer of insight, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. (Previously reviewed in We’re Back, with Two Great Books from Our “Gone Reading Break“.)  ~Lisa Christie

FC9781616205041-1.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.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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 who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election.  Why do we include it here?  Because part of this book deals with Candidate Trump’s treatment of women including an unwanted, unexpected, and unprofessional kiss of Ms. Tur by Mr. Trump. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.”  (First reviewed on LAST Minute Holiday Gift Ideas.) ~Lisa Christie

FC9780312674397.jpgSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2001) – What happens when a high school student attends a party and is raped by an upperclassman, someone she has to see every day at school afterwards? Ms. Anderson provided one answer to this question long before the #metoo movement in this page-turning book for young adults.  Years after reading this award-winning young adult novel, we still remember being completely taken by the narrator, Melinda, and her story. This thought-provoking YA novel bursts open many of the hypocritical aspects of high school and illustrates the importance of learning to speak up for oneself (and we would argue to speak up for those who can not speak for themselves), while opening a window into the horrors of rape. Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. (First reviewed in another WISE post years ago.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307949486.jpgGirl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005) – Perhaps the ultimate revenge novel, this thriller follows a woman and her ways of coping with unspeakable childhood trauma. It is an international bestseller, twice a movie, and spawned the translation into many languages of crime stories by many, many Scandinavian authors. (First reviewed in Summer’s Sneaky Pleasures Scandinavian Thrillers.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781449486792-1.jpgthe sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) – Somehow we missed her first best-selling book, but in a time where the news is full of people behaving horribly and many of us feeling some angst and hopelessness, Ms. Kaur’s honest poems about heart-break, loss, rape, love, relationships, and hope are just what we needed. “To hate is an easy lazy thing but to love takes strength everyone has but not all are willing to practice” seems a perfect thought for today’s news. And, “a lot of times we are angry at other people for not doing what we should have done for ourselves” hit home. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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We hesitate to follow the joy of family celebrations for Passover and Easter, and the first signs of true spring with a post about war and refugees. However, waking this morning and hearing news from the weekend about immigrants in the USA, and noting that Syria has really never left the news for years, we are forging ahead with reviewing books that help us all learn a bit more about refugees and war. As much as we’d love for the world to be at peace, it is not. And, we firmly believe reading great books about important topics is a great way we can all help move the needle towards peace.

So, today we review two books about refugees and war that help us look a little deeper than the NPR stories and newspaper articles on these topics. One book is a fictional account of war in an unnamed country that could be Syria. The other is a first person account by a child of living in a war zone – in her case Syria. Both are important, helpful, and we believe worth your time.

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FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – We LOVE this novel.  It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important topics (e.g., immigration, war). Clever in every way. Two bonus aspects — 1) it is an excellent Book Club choice; and, 2) it is now available in paperback.

Now, a brief plot summary that in no way does this book justice: two young people — fierce Nadia and gentle Saeed — meet as their home country teeters on the brink and then eventually succumbs to civil war. Their struggle to find and create home, spans this terrific novel about refugees, war, randomness, friendship, kindness, family, and love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781501178443.jpgDear World by Bana Alabed (2018) — I don’t tweet so I missed the “real-time” story of this young Syrian. But, I am so glad I found Ms. Alabed’s book about her life. Tragically, her idyllic childhood ended at age three when civil war arrived in Aleppo. As war continued, she endured bombing, destruction, and fear while trapped with her family with little to no access to food, water, or medicine. Eventually, Ms. Alabed and her family escape to Turkey. Throughout, she tweeted about her experience. These tweets and some prose from her mother comprise this moving and important first-hand account about living in war and being a refugee. Is this high literature? Probably not; but, it is a raw first hand account of living in a war zone and being a refugee. And, sometimes it takes a kid to bring the horrors of the headlines to life. Don’t take our word for it though. JK Rowling described this book as “a story of love and courage amid brutality and terror, this is the testimony of a child who has endured the unthinkable.” ~ Lisa Christie

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It’s that time of year — a time when those of us lucky to be near Norwich, Vermont can combine food, books, and great company in a fun pair of evenings entitled Tables of Content. Lucky because what could be better than raising money for an incredible public library (our own Norwich Public Library), meeting new people, eating great food, and discussing superb books and the topics they lead us to?  For those of us unable to join a Tables of Content gathering, take heart, the books being discussed as well as a brief blurb about the book and the evening are listed below. We hope these reviews both inspire those of us near Norwich to attend a Table of Content, and that they help those of us who are not nearby, to read a great book and find some good food.

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Tables on Saturday April 7, 2018

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) – NPR called Exit West “a breathtaking novel by one of the world’s most fascinating young writers…Hamid encourages to us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, even when they’ve lived lives much harder than anything we’ve endured. We have nothing in common except the most essential things, the things that make us human.” The book is on all the best books of 2017 lists — let’s read it and find out why! Then join us for a family-style meal inspired by the delicious and palate awakening cuisines of those who have come to our country from far, far away to begin again. *Sorry, but please choose a different different TOC if spices and flavors from other parts of the world are not your bag! Vegetarians welcome!

FC9781501126062.jpgSing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017) – Set in rural Mississippi, told from each character’s point of view, we learn about the untimely and extremely unfortunate deaths of two people, different generations, both a result of racial strife, who come to haunt a mother and her son. The focus is a broken family in rural Mississippi — a failed black mother, her husband whose cousin killed her brother and is about to be released from jail, her sensitive and paternal thirteen year old son, and the toddler, who adores her older brother. The torments of imprisonment, racism, and innate hatred are weaved throughout the narrative. But we’ll manage to keep the conversation lively and the food just might have to include some southern biscuits!

FC9780062120397.jpgThe Son by Philip Meyer (2013) – ​The Son covers 200 tumultuous years of Texas history, as told by three generations of the McCullough family.  Much of the story centers around Eli McCullough, who was kidnapped by Comanches at the age of 13 in 1849, and went on to become a Texas Ranger and then a cattle baron at the turn of the 20th century.  We also hear the voices of Peter McCullough, Eli’s conflicted son, and Jeannie, his great-granddaughter who watches the family wealth shift from cattle to oil.  But while The Son is a great read that provides a detailed portrait of the triumphs and brutalities of frontier life, we’re really in it for the food. We’ll be feasting on beef brisket (imported from our favorite brisket maker) and other Texan treats, while sampling four kinds of whiskey from Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas.

FC9780374228088.jpgThe Wine Lover’s Daughter by Anne Fadiman (2017) – We found a memoir of a happy father-daughter relationship to guide our Tables of Content evening!  What miraculous book you might ask? Answer: Anne Fadiman’s (of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down fame) portrait of her famous father Clifton. Born in 1904, Clifton rose far above his early beginnings, but remained impressively down to earth. His dream to teach at Columbia ended when he was told they could only hire one Jew (Lionel Trilling). So Clifton pivoted and became a rising star of the editorial and publishing world. His career included writing for the New Yorker, being an editor for Simon & Schuster, a judge for Book-of- the-Month Club, and co-author of The Lifetime Reading Plan (still in print.) However, lucky for us, wine might have been his greatest joy. Join us as we celebrate wine and the written word. Our menu will harken back to 20th century Manhattan (vegetarians welcome!). Let’s raise a glass to family and sharing stories around the table.Related imageTables on Saturday, April 14, 2018

FC9780143118527.jpgThe Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak (2010) – Written by the most widely read female writer in Turkey, this is a lyrical tale of parallel narratives. Ella Rubenstein finds herself drawn to the life of Rumi and his teaching based on the unity of all people and religions. Our dinner will feature delicious foods from many regions. Please join us as we discuss love, life and all that makes us human.

FC9780199537150.jpgFrankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1818) – 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. Through her seminal work, Shelley sparked the imaginations of generations to question the balance between progress and ethics. Join us in a gastronomical laboratory where food, fun, conversation, and science meet.

FC9780062409218.jpgNews of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016) – Before fake news, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd earned money by reading newspaper articles from far-flung locales to audiences throughout northern Texas. After raising a family, fighting in two wars, and completing a career in printing, the widower Captain Kidd enjoyed a nomadic carefree lifestyle in his twilight years. His life takes a most unexpected turn when he’s asked to deliver a 10-year orphan, who had been kidnapped by Native American Kiowa raiders four years earlier, to surviving relatives 400 miles away. Come share their remarkable journey of danger and discovery while enjoying food of the region as interpreted by your New England hosts.

FC9781476753867.jpgThe Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (2018) – Tale of a young immigrant in the 1920’s who tries to become part of Richard Byrd’s Antarctic Expedition, during an era when the American media and populous is swept up in daring feats of formidable explorers like Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart. Theme for dinner: 1920’s common meals, as found in Fannie Merritt Farmers The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (Jessie Thorburn Kendall’s copy- My Great Grandmother).

FC9781616207823.jpgWhat Unites Us by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner (2017) – This is a gently presented, welcome overview of the long life of a journalist and observer of our country who also considers himself a deeply patriotic American. Rather’s evenhanded and civil insights into some very difficult current topics are accurately suggested by calling out the section heads in his table of contents (beginning with his pages simply entitled “What is Patriotism?”): Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility, and Character. Please join us for a meal that we will create in the spirit of celebrating the warmth and comfort we enjoy in this melting pot of Norwich, Vermont, USA.

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images-1As March roared into Vermont like a lion (and seems prepared to roar again with yet another nor’easter tonight), we asked our favorite booksellers to review the one book they are recommending right now. It is our hope this list will help those of us in the Northeast enjoy the next snowstorm a little more by adding a few reasons to curl up by a roaring fire, and that it will also help those of you who reside elsewhere find your next great book to read.

Thank you Norwich Bookstore Booksellers. As always, your selections have added to the stack of books weighing down our bedside tables.

And now, their list:

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Beth recommends:

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (2018) – Honest and enlightening, Jerkins’ debut essay collection is just what I wanted it to be– short bits that allow me to sit with a topic for awhile before plunging straight back in for more. There are surprising points of connection, but more importantly I’ve learned about black culture and her experience with men, hair products, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It takes courage to write about one’s life at such a young age. The shortest passages “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” pack a gut punch. They may be small, but they are fierce. That last line is everything. It gives me the inspiration to keep writing, keep pushing, keep reaching. The best essays teach and inspire in equal measure, Jerkins is one to watch.

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Brenna recommends:

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley (2018) – Oh, how I love the mercenary mind of 12-year-old Flavia De Luce. Like Louise Penny and Laurie R King, Alan Bradley succeeds in writing mysteries whose nuanced characters drive the story as much as any plot-device. The ninth book in this series is no different. The young chemist with a fondness for poisons, is accompanied by her two sisters and Dogger, the family friend/servant, on a boating trip, when she almost immediately hooks a body. Not just any body- this body is the son of a notorious poisoner- just the thing to rapturously distract our macabre little heroine from the enormous loss her family is (in their reserved, very British way) attempting to reconcile.

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Carin recommends:

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2017) – Sebastian Barry (in my opinion, Ireland’s best living writer) won the Costa Prize for this mesmerizing novel. It is filled with the travails, loves and adventures of an Irish immigrant to America in the mid-1800s who survives the Indian Wars, the Civil War and Andersonville Prison.

It’s violent, but then so was that era in America’s history. This is stop-you-in-your-tracks writing, and you learn a lot about what it was like to be Irish then.

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Jennifer recommends:

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman (2017) – I love this cookbook. I’m reading it like a book of short stories. The little essays describing how she came to develop the recipes draw me into her cooking mindset. The recipes themselves are quite approachable, and the ones I’ve already made came out beautifully. I especially appreciate that she provides alternate methods for ingredient prep and doesn’t assume, for instance, that everyone owns a food processor.

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Kathryn recommends:

Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage by Brian Castner (2018) – A book filed with historical content and present day adventure. In 1789, Scottish explorer and fur trader, Alexander MacKenzie set out to find the Northwest Passage, a shorter route to China. In 2016, Brian Castner began a 1,124 mile journey in a canoe to retrace MacKenzie’s earlier trek in search of that missing waterway. Great read for that cathartic wilderness experience of suffering from your armchair.

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Liza B. recommends:

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (2018) – When we are upset, it is important to be heard! Often our well-meaning friends try to sooth, distract, or even plan revenge. What we need is a Rabbit in our lives: some one who is present, who listens, who understands, rather than trying to fix things for us. An important book in these times of breakage and shouting; an oasis of healing and comfort. The uncluttered illustrations pair perfectly with the simple text creating a clear yet complex tale.

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Penny recommends:

Personal History by Katharine Graham (1997) – I came to this absorbing memoir after seeing the recent film, The Post. Although written 20 years ago, this Pulitzer Prize winning biography remains a strong and insightful read. Graham reveals she spent most of her first 40 years as a shy, insecure person. After the suicide of her husband Phil Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, Katharine took the helm. She played a monumentally important role in shaping our nation’s history as she quietly guided the paper through many turbulent years, including exposing The Pentagon Papers and Watergate. This is a frank, honest and courageous account of a woman who found her sense of self in a man’s world. To me, she is a remarkable role model.

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Sara recommends:

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira (2018) – Oliveira’s second novel about a spirited and determined woman, Mary Sutter. Her first offering, My Name is Mary Sutter, about the young Mary, an experienced midwife who, against immeasurable odds, trains to be a surgeon during the Civil War, won the Michael Shaara Award for Civil War Fiction. This book, also beautifully written, has a sinister slant. Mary, now an established physician with a successful family practice leads the citizenry of Albany in a desperate, exhaustive search for two missing girls, sisters lost during a cataclysmic winter storm. Also lost are their parents in sweeping tragedies of snow and flood that nearly destroy the local lumber mills. Intrigue, politics, and finally, grit get the girls back to the Sutter home. Tenderness and love temper their mistreatment and recovery. An untried attorney skillfully puts the pieces of the case together and sensitively draws out the girls’ account of what happened. During a climactic prosecution, the perpetrator is discovered and a raw justice is served. Haunting but ultimately satisfying.

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Susan recommends:

The Taster by V.S. Alexander (2018) – Berlin 1943: Twenty-five year old Magda Ritter’s parents send their daughter to relatives in the countryside of Berchtesgarden to wait out the war. But Berchetesgarden is the site of Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda’s aunt and uncle are passionate Nazis and believe every true German must serve the Fuhrer. With limited jobs available in the small town, they pull their few strings to get Magda an interview with the Reich. Several weeks later she is working for Hitler – as one of the tasters who will sample every dish prepared for him. Based on the life of Margot Woelk, who kept her wartime occupation a guarded secret until she was 95 years old, and peopled with fictionalized versions of other inhabitants of Hitler’s intimate household, this historical novel presents the final years of the war from the German perspective. Loyalty, love and betrayal – to oneself, one’s family and one’s country are key themes which resonate in 2018.

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This week we feature “3 Questions” with Joanne Serling, author of Good Neighbors, about whom Kirkus Reviews says  – “[Serling] writes with verve and frequent insight”. In Good Neighbors, her debut novel, Ms. Sterling  focuses on the lives of four young families in an idyllic suburb whose lives, views, and morality are challenged by one family’s upheaval.

Ms. Serling’s fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in New Ohio Review and North American Review. She is a graduate of Cornell University and studied and taught fiction at The Writers Studio in New York City. She lives outside of New York with her husband and children and is at work on her second book.

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Ms. Serling will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, March 14thThis 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 Good Neighbors.

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

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell had a huge influence on me as a writer. It’s an indelible portrait of a housewife navigating the changing American landscape between the first and second world wars. Besides loving the depth and simplicity of the writing, I was amazed at the similarities between the domestic world of Mrs. Bridge and modern American motherhood. I thought, “Ah ha! I want to write about this!” and I pretty much ran to my local library and started what I hoped would be a contemporary version of the book. Needless to say, I got stuck around chapter four. I failed to grasp how nuanced and sharply observed Connell’s masterpiece is, and didn’t yet have my own Mrs. Bridge. But I held on to the idea of short, episodic chapters about domestic life and came back to that form when I landed on the idea for Good Neighbors..

I had a similarly charged reaction when I read That Night by Alice McDermott. Never before had I never read an author who unfolded a single event so masterfully, turning ordinary life into something dramatic and powerful in the process. I ordered all of McDermott’s books after that and just devoured them, underlining passages and trying to figure out her secret. The ‘secret’ is that she’s an incredibly gifted writer, but that exercise grounded me in the idea that everyday life can be made extraordinary with enough love and connection to the material.

Lastly, I have to mention Edith Wharton, particularly Age of Innocence, which I read in college, long before I thought I could dare to become a writer. Wharton’s book electrified me — I couldn’t believe that social class, much less romance, could be the stuff of literature– and that story planted the seed that money and class were worthy of exploration. Wharton is one of my favorite writers and like Mc Dermott, once I discovered her, I read all of her work.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Kate Walbert’s Our Kind in this list. Her wonderful stories about a certain generation of upper middle class women, told in the first person plural, were like a gateway drug for me. For many years and many drafts, I used a similar narrative style to help tell the story of Good Neighbors. Eventually, I switched the narrative to first person and relegated the large “we” narrator to the prologue and epilogue, but Walbert’s book was a huge inspiration.

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

I greatly admire Adam Haslett and would love the chance to tell him in person how much his books have meant to me.
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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

I actually bought a larger bedside table recently, because I had too many books and magazines to fit on the one I owned. But of course, the new table is just as crowded and there are still piles on the floor. All of this to say I’m a peripatetic reader who moves from short stories to novels to essays pretty regularly. In one pile is my stack of New Yorkers, Tin Houseand Paris Review issues that I continually dip into when I have just a few minutes and want some nourishment.

Closest to my bed is my pile of current reads, which at the moment includes The Bitch is Back, a stunning collection of essays about women’s lives, and several new novels that I’m dying to start: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Mira T. Lee’s Everything Here is Beautiful, and Rachel Lyon’s Self Portrait with Boy.

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.

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.