Archive for June, 2012

Since we highlighted books for moms in 2011, we thought it only right to balance things out by recognizing good reads for dads. Posting the day after Father’s Day seemed like excellent timing.

Sadly, we couldn’t find an equivalent or, more importantly, an appropriate “Porn for Dads” title  to suggest on par with the Porn For New Moms book that inspired our Mother’s Day 2011 piece, so we decided instead to focus on books that consider parenting from the dad’s point of view.

File:Michael Landon Pa Ingalls Little House on the Prairie 1974.jpg

Before our search began in earnest, we took a little detour and our thoughts veered towards favorite father figures from young adult literature.We reminisced, of course, about “Pa” from the Little House on the Prairie series that marked our childhoods.  What wasn’t to like? He rode horses with bravado, played lullabies on the fiddle, could hunt and gather like no one’s business, fiercely loved his wife and kids and was darn handsome to boot (one look at Michael Landon in the TV series proves this to be true).
Gregory Peck also looms large for us in his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.  Again, how can you go wrong with Atticus? He was a kind and wise  lawyer on the side of all that is right who allows his two children complete freedom and insights only when asked? Admittedly, he attracts danger at times, but that serves to make him an even more exciting Dad.

After this brief trip down memory lane, we  refocused and began looking for modern-day dads who write about and speak to the particular joys and challenges of millennial parenting. We realize that times are very different from when Pa was taming the frontier and that the noble Atticuses of the world raised their children over fifty years ago. So for this post we found fathers who are charting the journey now. Their accounts are fraught with occasional stumbles, honesty, and always humor. So here it is – a list of great gifts for your favorite dads or great reads for yourself about and by dads:

 Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2009) – A collection of essays by a well-known and well-reviewed author, whose topics cover everything from the positive traits embedded in the loneliness of a suburban childhood, to questions from one’s children about one’s own use of drugs, to being raised by a single mom, to living with a complicated passionate wife, to being in Chicago with his young son when Obama won, to watching a daughter’s bat mitzvah.  But ultimately the essays, so very often simultaneously poignant and funny, are about the questions one encounters in trying to live a life.  Mr. Chabon’s answers and more importantly his questions, have me thinking, and also looking forward to reading his upcoming piece of fiction – Telegraph Avenue: A Novel (September 2012).  Read this if you are questioning things yourself – his insight and experiences might just propel you in an unknown direction. ~ J. Lisa Christie

Father’s Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son by Buzz Bissinger (2012). This is not just a book for dads but one for all parents.  “Father’s Day” is a moving, exceptionally well-written and extremely honest memoir about a cross-country road trip that Bissinger takes with his 26-year-old son, Zach. It is a book that, as he explains it, has been in the writing for many years, since his twin sons Gerry and Zach were born three minutes apart. This short three minutes made a big difference in each of their lives: Gerry went on to live a “normal” life filled with girls, college, and graduate school; Zach, who experienced oxygen deprivation was effected cognitively and has spent his life  in special programs and under the care of his parents. Traveling across America with his son Zach, Bissinger explores his journey as a father, his relationship with his own parents, and the complexities of his own adult journey.  Father’s Day is about the expectations of parenthood and, in the case of Bissinger, the reality of the experience of raising an extraordinary son. (Note: If the name Buzz Bissinger sounds familiar, he is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and also the author of Friday Night Lights).

Shortlisted – only because we haven’t quite finished it yet:

 Dan Gets a Minivan:Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad by Dan Zevin.  His 2002 book – The Day I turned Uncool:Confessions of a Reluctant Grown-up was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and has been optioned by Adam Sandler for a movie.


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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “Three Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam in the week 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.  While most of the authors will be featured on our special “3 Questions” page, once each month ONE of the many amazing authors visiting the Norwich Bookstore wil be spotlighted here on our main page.

We are pleased to welcome Alix Kates Shulman, the author of Menage and many other books, to The Book Jam. Ms. Shulman is an American writer of fiction, memoirs, and essays, as well as one of the early activists of feminism’s Second Wave. She is perhaps best known for her bestselling debut, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen (Knopf, 1972), “one of the first novels to emerge from the Women’s Liberation Movement” (Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing).  Shulman first emerged as the author of the controversial “A Marriage Agreement,” which proposes that men and women split childcare and housework equally and details a method for doing so. This work has been widely reproduced in magazines (Life, Redbook, Ms., New York) and anthologies, including a Harvard textbook on contract law and continues to be debated on blogs (Washington Post Blog).  Ms. Shulman holds degrees from Case Western Reserve University and Columbia University, and has taught writing and women’s literature at the University of Hawaii, the University of Maine, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Yale.

In Menage, a couple seems to have it all: wealth, a dream house in the suburbs, and two adorable children along with the nannies to raise them. But their marriage has lost its savor: she is a frustrated writer and he longs for a cultural trophy to hang on his belt. During a chance encounter in LA, Mack invites an exiled writer to live with them.  Of course, complications arise.  In Menage, Shulman pokes fun at our modern malaise (why is having it all never enough?), even as she traces the ever-changing dynamics within a marriage.

Ms. Shulman will be reading at the Norwich Bookstore on Wednesday, June 27th at 7 pm.  Please call 802-649-1114 to reserve your spot.

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

Plato’s ancient dialogue about love The Symposium first inspired me to write. I was a graduate student of twenty when I conceived a modern Symposium that would include, as Plato’s didn’t, women’s voices, and reflect contemporary ideas about love. But it was not until I encountered the richly sad and funny stories of Grace Paley, when I was in my early thirties, that I realized how our shared subject matter—the ordinary lives of young urban mothers—was suitable for literature. Only then did I start writing seriously. The third book to shape me as a writer is the one I’m reading at the moment, with pencil poised.

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

I’d treasure the chance to sit down with Virginia Woolf and discuss books, gossip, craft, art, and politics (including her self-appointed tasks of ending both discrimination against women and the insanity of war). Fortunately, Woolf, who was prolific as both novelist and essayist, published views on all these subjects, along with her brilliant novels, so I may hear her distinctive voice whenever I like.

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction myself, I am always reading both.  (This spring I have one new book of each: my satirical novel Ménage, and A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays: Four Decades of Feminist Writing.) Now at my bedside are the novels An Available Man, by Hilma Wolitzer, about love among people in their later years; the prize-winning debut Lamb, by Bonnie Nasdem; and the multi-generational The Possibility of You, by Pamela Redmond. In non-fiction I’m reading How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, by Sarah Bakewell, and The Next American Revolution, by the inspiring 96-year-old civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs.

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Several weeks back, we found ourselves reminiscing in a local coffee shop, asking each other where all of the good coming of age stories had gone. Both of us remember being moved and forever changed by Maya Angelou’s classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings . Published in 1969, its poetic prose and strong heroine has influenced generations of readers and helped to alter  the conversation about racism and sexual trauma. It also demonstrated that autobiography could be excellent literature.

This conversation prompted us to search for more recently published, also first-rate coming of age stories. And while Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings inspired us, the choices offered below are very different from her seminal book. None are memoirs, but all address their characters’ quests for independence and their attempts at self-definition – and each one is very, very good.

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel (May 2012) – A coming of age story about five friends – four of whom were in a talented instrumental quartet in a Florida High School, one of whom ultimately was a girlfriend to two of the band members.  Because traits of the heat of Florida, the sprawl of north Miami and the abandonment of post-2008 real estate collapses play as much of a part of this story as the choices each character makes, Florida often acts as another character.

When the quartet separates both geographically and lifestyle-wise after their last concert (on the back of a pickup truck), each and every one makes bad, bad choices.  This novel unravels what happens as a result of those choices and how youth’s promise is squandered (college scholarships and jobs are lost, addictions develop, in short, people “come undone”).   And yet, somehow, the novel remains hopeful – life goes on and people do learn. I would describe this as a well paced “beach” read. Lisa Christie

Friends Like Us by Lauren Fox (2012): So if 40 is the new 30, then is 26 the new 16?  Some might question including this title in a coming of age post as Friends Like Us is a book about a trio of twenty-somethings, friendship, and falling in love in the city of Milwaukee. But what really struck me about it was each character’s quest to grow up, to launch into full-fledged adulthood and out of first apartments furnished with curbside finds, Ikea, and roommates. It is simultaneously a comedy and a tragedy: 26-year-old Willa Jacobs is an achingly funny, smart, and observant narrator whom we meet just as she reunites with her best friend, Ben, from high school at a reunion; the plot thickens when Ben falls in love with Willa’s new best friend and roommate, Jane. This is an extremely well written, clever book that examines the choices that define us but also one that offers a window of insight into the tricky world – minefield? – of careers and relationships that is currently being navigated by a generation of American twenty-somethings. Lisa Cadow

The Book Of Jonas by Stephen Dau (2012) — A truly spare and haunting book about a young Muslim war orphan, and of the American  soldier to whom his fate is bound.  Jonas lives in an unnamed Muslim country when his family is killed by US Armed forces. With the help of a relief organization he lands in Pittsburgh, PA and finds a foster family, college scholarship and a powerful girlfriend. However, the adjustment is not all that it seems, and eventually, he tells a court-mandated counselor and therapist about a  U.S. soldier who saved his life. This leads to the meeting of the soldier’s mother who is searching for any information about what happened to her son.  The novel explores the choices people make as they mature into adults, and how people adjust to the ultimate tragedy – loss of loved ones. The Book of  Jonas allows the reader to look at the terrible choices made during war, how people deal with the unknown and what happens when disaster appears in your own life. Lisa Christie

Book Jam Note: We dedicate this post to Nora Searle, a lovely person who was not given the opportunity to finish adolescence, but who, while alive, showed so many people how to live with grace, style, beauty, love and laughter.

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