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Archive for the ‘Armchair Travelers’ Category

searchOne of our favorite people  – the superb author Sarah Stewart Taylor – is someone we turn to when we need a great new book or author to read. Thus, we were thrilled when she agreed to turn her recent trip to Ireland into a Book Jam post about some authors she discovered while abroad. In this post, Sarah discusses the power of literature one discovers when traveling, and how literature provides superb armchair travel when hopping on a plane is just not possible. We hope you enjoy her suggested reading list as much as we do. Thank you Sarah! And, happy travels to all.

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On a trip to Dublin, Ireland recently, I ducked into a fantastic little bookshop in Sandymount. The tables were piled high with new and used books of all kinds, and I asked the proprietor to recommend some Irish mysteries for me. An obsessive fan of both Ireland and crime fiction, I love revisiting one of my favorite places on earth through the works of the Irish crime writers Tana French and John Banville (one of my favorite Irish novelists, writing mysteries as Benjamin Black), and I needed some more titles to get me through until their next ones are published.

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He obliged very nicely and I came home with an extra bag to contain all the books I’d bought. I discovered some terrific new-to-me Irish crime writers, among them Gene Kerrigan, Jane Casey (who is Irish but writes mysteries set in London), Declan Hughes, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, and Stuart Neville. 

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Reading mysteries about a place is one of my favorite ways to prepare for travel, to prolong the fun of an adventure once I’m home. Donna Leon’s Venice mysteries are among my favorites, focusing on the cases (and the meals) of the appealing Inspector Guido Brunetti and reminding me of past trips to that magical city. I love the mysteries of Cara Black, which always bring me back to trips to Paris.

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It’s also fun to read mysteries about places I haven’t yet been lucky enough to visit. Jason Goodwin’s Inspector Yashim novels, set in the 19th century Ottoman Empire, have made me obsessed with visiting (modern-day) Turkey and Colin Cotteril’s wonderful mysteries set in Cambodia have added that country to my travel bucket list. I absolutely loved a novel by Richard Crompton, set in Kenya and titled Hour of the Red God. It stars a Masai detective named Detective Mollel and was one of my favorite new mysteries of the past few years.

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So — what are your favorite mysteries about places you’ve visited — or would like to?

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Well, we bet you never thought you’d read a Book Jam post thanking a movie star, and honestly neither did we. But Mr. Hawke’s latest endeavor – a book entitled Rules for a Knight – has us leading 2016 with a sincere thank you to him.

Why gratitude? Well, reading this slim volume aloud to a ten-year-old boy and 12-year-old boy over the holiday break led to GREAT discussions about what sort of people they wish to become, and how they are going to get there. The discussions had nothing to do with what job they will hold, or where they will live, or academic grades. Instead, the conversations centered around what sort of people they wish to be, and included pondering questions such as: How do you show people you are grateful for their service? If you believe helping others is important, how do you serve others? How do you respond to life’s set-backs? How do you know who you are? Yes, much of the writing is a bit clumsy in its earnestness, and much of the advice is very yoda-like; but honestly, for us, any book that causes pre-teen boys to open up and discuss meaningful topics is worth reading.

These discussions inspired us to think about other books that might lead to amazing conversations about how to live (or just amazing conversations). Thus, we start 2016 with a review of Rules for a Knight, and a few other books that may lead to great discussions, and/or inspire your new year. You will see they are quite an eclectic mix as we weren’t certain what you might be in the mood to read or what inspiration you require. But each in its unique way, is helping us answer our ultimate question for 2016 – “How can I be useful?”. So, thank you Ethan Hawke for this gift of meaningful conversations with pre-teen boys about how to live a life (and for Before Sunrise and Dead Poets Society).

May 2016 be filled with fun books, good people, great discussions, some opportunities to learn a bit, and some fun adventures.

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Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (2015) – In this book, a knight, fearing he will not survive an upcoming battle, writes a letter to his children that he hopes will guide them as they face life’s choices. His themes include solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, and patience; and, he uses Eastern and Western philosophy, and modern spiritual and political themes throughout. What emerges is a short guide to what gives life meaning, and to what allows one to both create and appreciate beauty. As we said in the introduction, we found this a great read-aloud for discussions with youngsters. Note — while the kids we experienced this with were boys, Mr. Hawke incorporates girls into the prose, and we think this book would lead to fun conversations with kids, regardless of gender.

The Best Place to be Today: 365 Things To Do and The Perfect Day To Do Them by Lonely Planet (2015) – As regular readers of the Book Jam know, both Book Jam Lisas LOVE to travel. We also tend to rely on the Lonely Planet guides when we leave Vermont to explore the world. We love the concept behind this specific Lonely Planet book — each day of the year has a destination highlighted with information on what is there, and reasons why it is good to be enjoying that destination on that particular day. For example, this would be a great planning tool if you know you would like to go somewhere for Memorial Day, but need some inspiration about where it would be good to be on that specific weekend. We also think it would be fun to put on your dining room table and flip a page every day of the year for some great photos, some new knowledge, and some travel inspiration.

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay (2015) – Mr. Gay, a Wall Street Journal sports columnist, wrote a rule book that does not take itself too seriously. Best of all for us — it definitely does not make you feel guilty for all the things you are not doing (or doing as the case might be). What it does do is make you laugh (a lot – so much so that one of us completely distracted her husband with loud guffaws as he was trying hard to accomplish some work), and ponder the fact that maybe everything is not hard as you are making it. Read this as a powerful antidote to the daily news.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016 (2015) – Planning a big trip in 2016?  Well, this Lonely Planet volume will help guide you to your best destination. Along with vivid descriptions and ideas, this book provides: 1) a list of the top ten countries, regions, and cities to visit in 2016, 2) 16 top travel lists to give you fresh ideas for exploring the world from a new perspective, and 3) more than 35 events mapped out in a year long travel planner.

The Nordic Cook Book by Magnus Nilsson (2015) – We must admit we don’t normally think of Scandinavia when we think of what to make for dinner. So, we were intrigued when we came across this cookbook on the Norwich Bookstore’s shelves.  And, since we have vowed to expand our culinary horizons in 2016, we are glad we found this tome. We look forward to allowing it to inspire new dishes throughout the year. We will also enjoy thinking while we cook of the midnight sun, nordic myths, and fjords.

Paris by Serge Ramelli (2015) – We both love France, we both love Paris, and we both love this book of stunning images from the City of Light. Mr. Ramelli’s photos are truly spectacular, and a full book of Paris is lovely indeed. There is also something incredibly soothing about looking at a book of images, not words. Please pick this up and just enjoy some armchair travel in 2016.

And to finish this first post of 2016, one of us returns to her Southern roots by adding a quote from a fellow Tennessean. May 2016 be superb for all y’all!

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We celebrated books in the Norwich Inn during the annual holiday edition of Pages in the Pub in our home town of Norwich, Vermont last week. Our superb presenters spoke about their favorite picks for gift giving, and wow did they sell a lot of books. We thank them for that, and for leaving all of us a great list of books to give and get. Bonus – thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, the event raised around $1,400 for the Norwich Public Library (while increasing sales for a great indie bookstore).

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This post lists all twenty- three books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing and gift-giving easier. We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy holiday shopping from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for holiday gift giving, with their intriguing bios at the end.

COOKBOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOWSTORM AND FOR THOSE WHO NEED SOME HELP

Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix by Mark Bittman (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Yummy dishes; up, down, across, diagonal.

Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell (2014). Selected by James – Master Chef Teaches Son. Goodbye Take-out.

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

438 Days: Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin (2015). Selected by James – Thirty-hour trip goes quite awry.

Hold Still by Sally Mann (2015). Selected by Penny – Photography, family, bravery, mortality, beauty, fear.

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2015). Selected by Penny – Perhaps my favorite book of 2015.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Ryan Stradal (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Forging family through lutefisk and bars.

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Deeply evocative. Beautifully written. Perfectly human.

The Sellout by Paul Beattie (2015). Selected by James  – Outrageous satire: black narrator segregates neighborhood.

ADULT FICTION: FOR A MAN WHO HAS ENOUGH TECH, BUT NOT ENOUGH GOOD FICTION

The Cartel by Don Winslow (2015). Selected by James – Narco-Terror: North America’s ISIS. Gripping.

The Heist by Daniel Silva (2015). Selected by Penny – Guilty pleasure, art, espionage, marriage, Israel.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION — FOR TEENS /TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM, AND FOR ADULTS WHO JUST LOVE YA

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015). Selected by Katie – Beauty surprises, kindness transforms, both inspire.

The Boys in the Boat: YA adaptation (2015). Selected by Katie – Loved by adults, now perfect for kids!

BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS (AGES 8-12): THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS

How Machines Work: Zoo Break! by David Macaulay (2015). Selected by Katie – Inspiration for the afternoon scientist—invent!!

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015). Selected by Lisa – Field-trip hijinks involve spies, adventure, laughs.

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2014). Selected by Lisa – Little House fans will thank you.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015). Selected by Lisa – History, mystery, magical realism. Boys & girls.

PERFECT PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOWSTORMS

Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Adorable raccoon. Quirky art. Sweetness abounds!

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins  (2015). Selected by Lisa – Three different views. One big snowstorm.

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman (2015). Selected by Katie – Moral: Persistence, confidence, & hard work prevail.

NON-FICTION/REFERENCE BOOK/COFFEE TABLE BOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK AND CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOOD STOVE

For armchair travelers

Lonely Planet’s Wild World by Lonely Planet (2015). Selected by Katie – Gorgeous adventure awaits, snuggled in armchair.

Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland (2015). Selected by Lisa – Fun illustrations finally reach US audience.  (Also has an Atlas of Adventure activity pack.)

For messy people who can’t find their own coffee table

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2015). Selected by James – Can book save human oil slick?

For the person who doesn’t usually read animal books

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Making friends with octopuses (not octopi!).

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ABOUT THE PRESENTERS

James BandlerIn spite of his father’s not-entirely unfair observation that he’d have trouble finding a rat in his own cup of coffee, James Bandler spend his formidable years writing about corporate misbehavior for a series of financially troubled newspapers and magazines. Now a recovering journalist and professional fact-finder, he is best known as the private chauffeur of two Norwich teenagers and the vice-chairman of the Dennis Thatcher Society of North America (DTSNA), Vermont Chapter.

Katie Kitchel – Like the books she enjoys reading, Katie’s career has been a varied mosaic. Since graduating from Dartmouth in 1995, Katie has worked as a victim’s advocate, a mediator, a trainer, a music teacher, an arts administrator, an admissions reader, and a bookseller. Her most cherished job, though, is being mom to her boisterous boys. In her “spare time”, she loves to READ and to SING and to perform in musicals and dramas alike. She lives in Norwich, VT with her husband, her three boys, and her wildly energetic dog.

Penny McConnel has been selling books for 30 years and cannot imagine doing anything else. She lives in Norwich with her husband Jim, a retired dentist. When not reading or selling books, Penny can be found cooking, in her garden, singing and for two months in the winter enjoying life with Jim in California.

Lucinda Walker loves being the Director of the Norwich Public Library and thanks Norwich for adopting her. Lucinda’s journey to librarianship began at the Windsor Public Library, where she spent many a long Saturday afternoon devouring their children’s books. She counts among her favorite things: French roast coffee, storytelling podcasts, and Saturday Night Live (plus books, of course!) Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her poet husband Peter and kids, Hartley & Lily.

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Lisa Cadow is the co-founder/co-blogger for the Book Jam Blog, and the founder of Vermont Crepe & Waffle, a food cart and catering company 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 in Hanover, NH. She lives in Vermont with her husband, three teens (two of whom are away at college most of the year now), three cats, and an energetic border collie.

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

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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 3 Questions features Victoria Shorr and her book Backlands. Ms. Shorr is a writer and political activist who lived in Brazil for 10 years. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles, where she cofounded the Archer School for Girls, and is now working to found a college-prep school for girls on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Backlands is based on the true story of Lampiao, Brazil’s most notorious bandit, who ruled over a group of nomadic outlaws in northeastern Brazil. Taking from the rich, admired and feared by the poor, the bandits roamed and ruled from 1922 to 1938. The novel unfolds from the viewpoint of Maria Bonita, a woman stuck in a loveless marriage until she met Lampiao, and rode off with him to become the “Queen of the Bandits”. (Photo by Dan Deitch.)

Ms. Shorr will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, July 22nd to discuss Backlands. This 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.

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

I would say the three that come to mind are  The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann and “The Fall River Axe Murders,” a story by Angela Carter.  They all take a historic event and then re-imagine it intensely, so that rather than reading a series of facts, you are actually there, living the history.  It was reading these retellings that made me realize that I could tell my story–which is a true one–better if I crossed that line into fiction.

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

Virginia Woolf said she would be afraid to find herself alone in a room with Jane Austen, but I would love it–especially if Virginia Woolf stayed as well! I felt I got to know them both quite well, recently rereading their work, and in fact, writing a piece about Jane Austen’s having turned down the one very good proposal of marriage that she got, I would like very much to hear her out about that. This took what Isak Dinesen calls  “courage de luxe”  [maybe she could join us!]–though it would have to be tea, of course, not coffee.

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3) What books are currently on your bedside table?

I am on a Coleridge bender, having started with Alathea Hayter’s Voyage in Vain (out of print), and then moved into Richard Holmes‘s two volume biography.  Also Sybille Bedford’s Legacy,  John Lahr’s Mad Pilgrimmage of the Flesh, which my husband and I fight over, and Michael Lewis’s Liars’ Poker, which my sons say will explain it all to me.

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Some Books for Book Clubs, and Anyone Looking for a Great Read

imagesWe were privileged to visit a local book club to present a few books for them to consider reading together. Their graciousness was incredible, and their appreciation for our ideas inspired us to share our picks with all of you. As you will see, we were slightly carried away and included MANY books by a diverse group of authors on many topics. So, our reviews are by necessity brief. To help you navigate this long list, we organized the titles in very loose categories, with a caveat that many would fit in multiple places. We hope this list inspires you to read some great books during these deliciously long summer days.

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Fiction – just for laughs/fun/easy reading/escape

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (June 2015) – Run-away bride drives home to Sonoma County, and is helped by her complicated family through decisions about what happens next.  Bonus — readers learn a lot about the history of Sonoma’s transition to vineyards.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life as a 1960s BBC sitcom star.

Foreign Affairs by Allison Lurie (1964) – Life of an American English professor becomes complicated when she spends a term in England with a younger colleague. It is a fun read that also won the Pulitzer.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2013) – Mom runs away from Seattle playground dramatics (and fulfills a fantasy felt by many at one point their parenting lives).

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A love story told backwards beginning with the deaths of the main characters from a fall off a cliff on Mallorca to the moment they met decades before.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) – A fun, well-told tale of suburban parenting.

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Fiction – slightly more serious

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (1997) – Dramatic, different, compelling. All the things a story should be.

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – The story of Teddy from Atkinson’s Life After Life.  A great read for WWII fiction fans, fans of pilots and those of you who ever wondered what might have been.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – Two remarkable characters try to survive the siege of Leningrad. Wicked with fun, yet poignant.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (2014) – Contemporary Ireland after the fiscal meltdown provides the background for a superb cast of characters. Enjoy.

Any novel by Halldor Laxness (Independent People) – This Nobel Prize winning author from Iceland is gifted, and his books take you to a land many of us never get to visit to see people we enjoy getting to know.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – Set in the aftermath of the collapse of civilization this tells the story of a Hollywood star, a savior and a cast of actors wandering what used to be the Great Lakes.

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2013) – Set ten years after civilization collapses, a man, his conscience and his dog try to figure out life.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – A page-turning fictional account of Margaret Mead’s life. Enjoy your time in the Samoan backcountry.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – A fictional account of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. In this book the author pictures her as a superb story-teller who becomes a memorable protagonist for a great piece of historical fiction.

My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – A classic tale of the American Midwest and the American immigration story.

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A saga spanning the 20th century in China and Los Angeles. Enjoy this tale of how a father’s love for China shapes his daughter’s life. We have recommended this to many book clubs – including an all men club – with great success.

The Submission by Amy Waldman  (2012) – This fiction answers what happens when the winning design for a monument for 9-11 is awarded to a Muslim.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – A story by a first time author, who also happens to work in a facility for the mentally ill, about a young man’s struggle with mental illness.  Not as depressing as that sounds.

Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi (2013) – A tale of immigration to America, the pull of the home country, and how some decisions by your parents have ramifications for you for the rest of your life.

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Pairings of books – because sometimes reading books back to back enhances the experience

The Cove by Ron Rash (April 2012) and In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent (2000)These two books are gorgeously written and approach the Civil War from two different settings, an isolated holler in North Carolina and the mountains of Vermont.

On Beauty (2008) by Zadie Smith with Howard’s End by EM Forster (1910) – On Beauty beautifully retells Howard’s End, a classic tale of England.

Prep (2004) and American Wife (2008) by Curtis Sittenfeld – In these two books, Ms. Sittenfeld tackles Prep School and former first lady Laura Bush.  Both will leave you thinking differently.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person  (2012) – Madame Bovary plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

Girl At War by Sara Novic (2015) with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Both books tackle the impact of war – one in Croatia and one in Chechnya – on those left in its wake.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) and Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansome (2008) – Both books look at WWII from the perspective of the Spanish Civil War.  Mr. Furst explores this theme using a thriller, Ms. Sansome in a more traditional historical novel.

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These words begin this novel about a mixed race Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan (2015) – This novel explores the consequences of bullying in a tale of a high school girl who moves from NYC to a football obsessed town in Alabama.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – A story of how one boy is trying not to let a tragic accident define his life and how a girl with a disfigured face shows him the way (sort of).   

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A tale for middle grade readers that illustrates the importance of perspectives and prejudice.  The plot can be summed as a black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man.  This book shows there is more to that tale.

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Short Stories/poetry

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection of short stories – some completely haunting — by a master storyteller.

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (2014) – Stories about Communists in the USA and abroad.

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Memoir

H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (2015) – TH White, birds and dealing with the loss of a father mingle in this well-told memoir.

Any book by Alexandra Fuller – A superb set of memoirs about growing up in Africa and finding one’s place in the world.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway (1964) – A FABULOUS tale of life as an American ex-pat in Paris that is sprinkled with the famous — the Hemingways, F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and others.

West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942) – SUPERB tale of a woman and her life in flight, as a horse trainer and as a woman making her way in 20th century Africa.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (2007) – The author of All the Light We Cannot See first wrote this memoir of his year in Rome on a writing fellowship with his wife and newly born twins.

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Current Issues

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) – Timely collection of lectures about race in the USA.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – These poems are cleverly illustrated and outlined in a way that opens conversations about race in the USA.

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History

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) – The historian tackles two brothers and their impact on the world. Or you could read his Truman or John Adams and then watch the primaries and discuss USA politics all night long.

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Essays

Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – A collection of essays about America, Americans and how to live.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) – Mr, Chabon has written a superb group of thoughts about being a man, fatherhood, being a son and friend. Enjoy.

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imgres-2It is the season of Dads and Grads. And, we can think of no better gift to mark their special day(s) than a superb book. So to help you find the perfect gift for every special Dad or Grad in your life this June, we have created a short, but diverse, list of possibilities. (Note: Our picks for Dads from last year  – https://thebookjamblog.com/2013/06/11/june-10-dads-turn-books-for-fathers-day/ – still make great gifts too.)

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)— Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. Fathers will appreciate a superbly crafted story about a man as he becomes a war hero, lover, husband, father, grandfather, and finally senior citizen. History buffs will love the depictions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Pilots and lovers of planes will appreciate the detailed descriptions of how WWII era planes worked. Grads will love that this is just a good story. Fans of Life After Life (this category includes the Book Jam Lisas) will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner. This novel focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have and is basically a book about a lovely man living his life in extraordinary times.  Please buy this for the Dads in your life, and then pick it up yourself to read at some point this summer. (Small disclaimer — It took about 60 pages for me to get into the rhythm of this novel; but I am so glad I stuck it out as the story, particularly the ending, has stayed with me long after closing the last page.) ~ Lisa Christie

H is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald (2014) — Readers, be ready to take flight with this brilliant 2014 Costa Book of the Year award winner. It was a bestseller in England and is now being hand sold as a favorite by indie booksellers in the United States. After MacDonald’s father dies unexpectedly, she embarks upon a journey of healing and discovery that begins with training a goshawk named Mabel. In truth, her avian journey began many years before with her childhood love of birds and falconry — but to train a goshawk! These are the mother of all birds: challenging, nervous, prone to tantrums, and requiring daily manning. Her focus turns to Mabel by necessity, but also as a way through her grief. In the process, she deepens her self-knowledge and also her respect and understanding of birds. She simultaneously leads the reader on a quest to better know the enigmatic TH White (who was a falconer and author of The Once and Future King).  H is for Hawk is nature writing at its best, leaving the reader turning the last page marvelling at the creatures with whom we share the world and yearning for our own healing encounter with the wild. ~Lisa Cadow

Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life (2015) — This book is for sports lovers, and anyone who has ever parented or coached a kid playing any sport of any kind.  The “Manifesto” expands upon a letter St. Louis Cardinal’s Manager Mike Matheny wrote to parents of a little league team he agreed to coach. The philosophy Mr. Matheny expressed in the letter outlined (among other things) his strongly held beliefs that authority should be respected, discipline and hard work rewarded, and humility considered a virtue. In this book he builds on that letter by offering a hopeful path beyond the (unfortunately) often typical path of poor behavior from sports parents, fans and leagues. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) — Books by Mr. McCullough are like comfort food – you know the style of the prose (plain-spoken, yet somehow soaring), the general premise (history), and that you will learn something. In this book, he takes on the Wright brothers. You may think you know all you need to know about The Wright Brothers from elementary school history – they invented the airplane, because of them Ohio and North Carolina fight over who was first in flight, and they owned a bicycle shop. But, you probably did not know they first gained recognition in France, that one of their first models had a canoe on bottom in case it landed in the ocean, and that their sister was brilliant too. A great gift for history buffs and anyone looking for a story of how two ordinary men accomplished a superbly extraordinary thing. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) — A perfect gift for the dads and grads who are news junkies or interested in social justice issues, or for any of us who are trying to make sense of today’s news about race. This collection of four essays by renowned psychologist and Spellman College President Dr. Tatum focuses on race in America. While each has a school-based slant, the questions they raise and the information they impart is important for anyone to consider as we navigate the recent news about race in America. Please note that though the pieces were written over seven years ago their wisdom and questions remain timely. ~ Lisa Christie

Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (2013) — Every once in awhile I pick up a book on how to write – favorites being Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. (Both King’s and Lamott’s books would be great gifts as well.) This “new to me” volume of advice joins those favorites. The authors’ relationship, their joint adventures together as editor and writer, and their love of a good story that is well-told, propel this clearly-written volume of advice on writing. This will make a great gift for any graduate (or Dad) who will be writing as they continue their education, any “would-be” writer, or honestly, any lover of well-written books. ~ Lisa Christie

And, a repeat review, but it is probably our favorite collection of essays about Dads/Men so we are OK with that.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) — One of our favorite collections of essays ever.  Reading this will make you appreciate dads and men.  It will also make you appreciate Mr. Chabon’s writing. And, it may make you laugh and cry a bit. Younger graduates might also enjoy this collection as many of the essays focus on the mistakes and triumphs of Mr. Chabon’s youth. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

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Is there a better way to spend a night than dining with fellow bibliophiles discussing a book you’ve all read and loved – with dishes and delicacies designed to compliment the book? This is exactly what happens during a spring fundraiser in Vermont. On this delicious evening, participants and hosts literally eat their favorite words.

On both April 25 and May 2, in the second iteration of Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library will serve dinners in their homes to raise money for our fabulous librarians and the facility they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts have selected to be the theme for their evening. To add intrigue and an element of the unknown, paying dinner guests choose which dinner to attend by picking the book of their choice. The location and hosts are only revealed after the books and all the guests have been matched.

How does this relate to books for you to read? The event is hosted by a diverse group of readers, and wow did they provide an eclectic selection of books again this year. They selected great fiction, off-the-beaten-path nonfiction, a British mystery or two, and even a travel guide. The books selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your literary preference.

We asked this year’s dinner hosts to provide a brief review of why they picked their title; and, we share their selections and thoughts with you below. Happy reading! For those of you near the Upper Valley, we hope you can join us at one of these delicious Tables of Content.

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The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2012) – Climb out your window and disappear!  In the style of Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, we promise an unpredictable and playful evening.  This “mordantly funny and loopily freewheeling novel about aging disgracefully” will provide the perfect springboard for a night of spinning yarns and celebrating our days.  Slippers encouraged.

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887) – A Study In Scarlet is the book that introduced Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the world, and launched a whole genre of detective fiction. Come along and share a Victorian English dinner while we discuss the great detective, his various TV and movie incarnations, and anything else that comes up – perhaps other great fictional detectives past and present.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – Engage all of your senses as we seek the unseen world.  We will taste France and discuss chance encounters that change lives.  We might grapple with how time, technology, obsession, or risk connect us all with invisible threads.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – Join us for an evening of music and food inspired by Ann Patchett’s brilliant novel ‘Bel Canto’.  In the book, a bunch of strangers are assembled for a celebratory birthday party somewhere in South America when a band of terrorists interrupt the festivities. With lyrical writing that intrigues and captivates, Ms. Patchett explores how different characters react to prolonged captivity and how romance and compassion can arise from tense circumstances.  We promise we won’t hold you hostage.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – A thriller-page turner. Neither my husband nor I could put it down.“City of Thieves” follows a character named Lev Beniov, the son of a revered Soviet Jewish poet who was “disappeared” in the Stalinist purges, as Lev and an accomplice carryout an impossible assignment during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad. Before Lev begins to tell his story, however, a young Los Angeles screenwriter named David visits his grandfather in Florida, pleading for his memories of the siege. A Spring dinner that promises no borscht.

The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby (2006) – We’ve all been raised with a few ground rules of etiquette: say please and thank you; don’t chew with your mouth open; and don’t ever talk about politics or religion at the dinner table! We’re inviting you to break the rules and to join us for an evening of cross-cultural food and meaningful conversation inspired by The Faith Club. This compelling book tells the story of three mothers, their three religions, and their quest to understand one another. Amidst challah and couscous, shish kabobs and hot cross buns, we’re looking forward to tasty treats and great conversations!

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – Rachel takes the same commuter train everyday to and from London. The train stops briefly beside a row of suburban houses that allows her to see the same couple day after day. She even fantasizes that she knows them and gives them names. Then one day she looks at their houseand sees something shocking, and her whole life spins out of control. This book speeds along like a commuter train. You can’t wait to turn the next page. And you can be sure to start our evening we will be serving Rachel’s favorite, gin and tonic in a can.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934) – What could be more fun than fussy Hercule Poirot traveling first class on the Orient Express?  Join us for an elegant evening to celebrate this classic Agatha Christie novel.  Who did it?

Rick Steves’ Greece (2013) – Have you been to Greece or is it on your bucket list? Either way, your hosts will help you enjoy an evening of conversation, connection, and good food, all inspired by the guidebook of that preeminent traveler Rick Steves, who notes that the Greeks were responsible for democracy, mathematics, medicine, theater, and astronomy, among many other accomplishments. Please bring along your own Greek travel treasures and mementos, your stories, and your questions—or your copy of Oedipus Rex! You may want to sample a traditional retsina or a glass of ouzo, but Greece is also well-known for some lovely, simple wines that are sure to please.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011) – Join us for a night inspired by the exhilaration, frustration, inspiration and growth that comes with coming of age as a twenty-something in New York City.  We’ll enjoy some jazz as we kick off the night but keep the music evolving to match our mood over the evening, all to accompany a NYC-inspired menu full of flavor and flair.  This book read like a crisp, delicious glass of bubbly for me – so there will be plenty of that to accompany our dinnertime discussion and delights. Oh – and we’ll be leaving the fleece, clogs and Upper Valley casual wear in the closet and donning something a bit more fun – we hope you’ll be inspired to have a little fashion fun too.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – While we wish we could discuss Go Set a Watchman, this dinner occurs before its July 14th publication date. So to help us prepare for the prequel/sequel – already a New York Times Best-seller – we will revisit Harper Lee’s amazing novel and eat genuine southern food. Yes, we will open our copies of the Junior League Cookbooks from Memphis, Pensacola and Charleston. Don’t worry, we won’t deep-fry anything – except maybe the cracklin’ bread – but we will show you what southern hospitality entails.

And, just in case you thought this list could not get any better — as an added bonus, the Norwich Bookstore will donate 20% of the purchase price of any of the Tables of Content‘s books to the Norwich Public Library! You need only mention to the bookseller that the book is for Tables of Content. We thank the Norwich Bookstore for their generosity.

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