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Archive for the ‘Fiction Fanatics’ Category

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

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

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

And now, our “3 Questions”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

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

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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

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

And now, our “3 Questions”:

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

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

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

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

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

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

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image result for images for black history month 2019Every year, we use Black History Month as an excuse to audit the diversity of the authors we review. Why?  Well, because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps during our next year of reviews. Our latest audit results are discussed below today’s new reviews of four – oops five – great books (one each of adult fiction, adult nonfiction, YA, children’s, memoir).

 

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

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

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

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

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

And now the audit results:

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

The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.

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

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

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

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

Happy Black History Month.

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We are very excited to present this week’s “3 Questions” with the writer and artist James Sturm. Mr. Sturm is the co-founder of The Center for Cartoon Studies, where he currently teaches. He is also the author of many critically acclaimed graphic novels (and, we are happy to call him a friend).

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Mr. Sturm will appear at 4 pm on Thursday, February 14th at The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont to discuss his latest novel Off Season. The book illustrates one couple’s separation during the 2016 Presidential election season. It follows the face-off between US Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the match up of Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump, and the aftermath of the eventual election of President Trump. Originally serialized on Slate, this expanded edition turns Mr. Sturm’s vignettes into a timeless tale of one family and their off season.

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This event is free and open to the public. A talk by Mr. Sturm at the Center for Cartoon Studies begins at the 4:00, and will be followed by a reception. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com for additional information. Please note this event is on a Thursday, not the usual Wednesday night for events at the Norwich Bookstore.MacDoodle St. Cover ImageThe Life and Death of Fritz the Cat Cover ImageMaus I & II Paperback Box Set (Pantheon Graphic Library) Cover Image

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

  • McDoodle Street by Mark Alan Stamaty. I came across a book of this self proclaimed “famous comic strip novel” in the early 1980s. Besides being hilarious, I was charmed by its improvisational nature and it opened up new ways for me to approach comics making. I’m thrilled to see this book being reissued this year.

  • Fritz The Cat by R. Crumb. Full of vivid details, Crumb’s artwork and writing was both slap dash and masterful and, deceptively, made cartooning look like the most obvious course to take.
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman. I reread this almost every year and continue to learn from it.

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

Maybe someone who was known as a grand raconteur like Dorothy Parker? Or someone who witnessed history with such clear eyes like Joseph Roth? Or better yet, how about H.L. Mencken? I bet it would be fun to speak with him about this historical moment. It seems like every quote of his I come across is spot on: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

  • Judas by Amos Oz. Oz’s recent death motivated me to finally read his work.
  • Berlin by friend and colleague Jason Lutes. I read Berlin while it was being serialized in comic book form over the course of 20 years. Look forward to to sitting down with this magnificent, intimidating tome soon.
  • Brother I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. I’ve been reading some wonderful memoirs this past year (The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits, Love and Trouble by Claire Dederer, All the Sad Songs by Summer Pierre, Spinning by Tillie Walden, etc) and Danticat’s is no exception.

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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Books for Book Clubs: Start the new year with a great list

Last autumn, we were honored to once again meet with an amazing, long-standing book group who asked us to come up with a list of great books for them to read, enjoy, and discuss. (They actually won us in a charity auction; and honestly, it is really fun to think our reviews benefitted someone’s charitable causes.) To help the rest of you (who were not able to join us on a fine autumn evening over delicious food) find the right books for your book clubs or your own personal reading, we divided the list mostly by subject area, not genre. Happy reading!

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Coming of Age

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America. Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~ Lisa Cadow

Prep: A Novel Cover ImagePrep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005). Ms. Sittenfeld’s debut novel provides amazing fodder for book club conversations as everyone has gone to school at some point in their lives and everyone who is old enough to read this novel has experience or is experiencing their teens. Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when dropped off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She’s there because she wants an education, but also because of the school’s glossy brochure, promising gorgeous and kind boys in sweaters, lovely old brick buildings, girls in kilts with lacrosse sticks, and a place where everyone looks beautiful in chapel. Lee soon discovers that Ault hosts jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand based upon years of wealth and the privileges it affords. In this novel, Lee provides a shrewd observer of–and, at some point, a participant in life at Ault. ~ Lisa Christie

Growing Old/Death

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi  (2016) – Chances are good that you’ve heard of this best selling memoir but may not have read it given the heavy subject matter. At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this put you off from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine which gives him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf  (paperback 2016). I couldn’t help immediately falling for Addie, the 70-something protagonist of this story when she knocks on the door of her similarly-aged neighbor and invites him to sleep with her. No, not in that way! She simply wants Louis to come over to her house to share what both characters agree are the loneliest hours. Thus begins the story of Addie and Louis unexpectedly finding meaning and human connection in the later part of their lives. Haruf wrote this slim novel at the end of his own life with his trademark spartan prose and simple language. Named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by the The Washington Post, this masterpiece is profound and poignant and worth every minute of reading time spent lost in its all-too-few pages.~ Lisa Cadow (Note: the Book Jam Lisas tend to love most of Mr. Haruf’s novels – Plainsong for example; so, don’t stop reading Mr. Haruf if you like this novel.) ~ Lisa Cadow

Impact of Technology/Our Future

Feed Cover ImageFeed by MT Anderson (2012). As screens dominate our work and leisure, and well, basically our lives, this book about a future in which we all have direct feeds into our brains, feeds through which corporations and governments directly provide us with all the information they think we need, is prescient and honestly page-turning. The group of fictional teens starring in this novel, teens whose feeds malfunction, demonstrate oh so very well how important what we consume through media is to our lives today and perhaps provides a tale of caution we all need. ~ Lisa Christie

 Gun Violence

Long Way Down Cover ImageA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017). Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in this unique, powerful and short novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. I’d love to hear how Book Clubs use this book as a place to begin solving this ever present public health issue. ~ Lisa Christie

Sexual Assault/Gender Equity

Young Jane Young: A Novel Cover ImageYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017). A GREAT book about youth, choices, first jobs, and how all of that affects the rest of your life. If you are a person of a certain age, it may also remind you of a certain political scandal or two. Bonus: you will laugh a lot and it is a relatively quick read so great for those months crowded with so many things you can’t possibly read all the books you wish. We are certain it will be a movie soon – so read it now so you can cast it in your mind first. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller) Cover ImageCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead “a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. May lead to great discussions about feminism today. ~ Lisa Christie

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories Cover ImageWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) –  I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly). ~ Lisa Christie

Convenience Store Woman Cover ImageConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). As an indie bookstore reviewer, Lauren Peugh of Powell’s Books in Oregon, stated, “Keiko Furukura has worked at her local convenience store for 18 years. Every day, she ensures that the shelves are tidy, the hot food bar is stocked, and the featured items are adequately displayed. She greets every customer with a cheerful ‘Irasshaimase!’ and no one notices that she’s never fit in anywhere else. Murata draws lush descriptions of the beauty of order and routine out of simple, spare prose, and every page crackles with the life she’s created. Because of the humor, the wit, the almost unbearable loveliness of it all, Convenience Store Woman, a small book about a quiet life, makes an enormous impact on the reader.” ~ Lisa Cadow

Domestic Violence
American by Day Cover ImageNorwegian by Night Cover ImageNorwegian by Night (2013) and American by Day (2018) by Derek Miller. See our June 18, 2018 post for our rave review of the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night. In American By Day, detective Sigrid Odegard is back in to star in this literary mystery series by Derek Miller, this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus,  a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. It offers a fascinating  Norwegian perspective on “strange” America – our foods, our neighborhoods, our quirks and Sigrid’s impression of life in upstate New York. We also have the pleasure of meeting, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is not only a police officer but also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book.~Lisa Cadow

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018). Educated, is one of the most affecting – if not the most affecting – memoirs of 2018 . In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass CastleJeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

Race Relations

Between the World and Me Cover ImageBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. This book is a letter to his son about race in America. As another of our favotire authors wrote about this book, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dear Martin Cover ImageMonday is Not Coming (2018) or Allegedly (2018) by Tiffany Jackson or The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2018). All these books are fabulous YA novels about life in contemporary USA. All lend themselves to great discussions about youth, race, and the USA today. And they are all pretty quick reads so perfect for months your book club is a bit overwhelmed. Briefly,  Dear Martin and The Hate U Give address gun violence in the USA. Monday is Not Coming speaks to treatment of African American girls in the USA and Allegedly addresses juvenile justice issues. ~ Lisa Christie

Immigration
Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Contreras (2018) paired with Dear America by Jose Vargas (2018). Both of these books provide insight into what life brings for new immigrants to the USA.  Fruit of the Drunken Tree is one of those books that are so gorgeous when you finish you turn back to page one and start over again. I was so moved by this story and so sad to see it end that I finished the author’s notes at the end and began again, re-reading at least the first 30 pages before I was ready to let these characters go. The novel, set in Bogota during the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, shows the horrors violence breeds through the eyes of seven year old Chula and her family’s maid Petrona. Loosely based upon actual events in the life of the author, this debut novel devastates and uplifts with every perfectly placed word. Dear America is a memoir penned by the most famous undocumented immigrant in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageExit West by Mosin Hamid (2017). We LOVED this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in its review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~– Lisa Christie•

Amazing Fiction You May Have Missed

The Sea (Vintage International) Cover ImageThe Sea by John Banville (2005). I often describe this slim novel as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  In it Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman travels back to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers in an attempt to cope with the recent loss of his wife. There he confronts all he remembers and some things he does not. ~ Lisa Christie 
The House on Mango Street (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image

House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1991). My oldest son read this in High School and I joined him in the experience by re-reading Ms. Cisneros’s acclaimed novel about life as a Latino in New York City. I enjoyed it years ago and enjoyed it again this time, with a huge bonus of being able to discuss it with my son. I hate to trivialize it by calling it a coming-of-age story, but I will call it a masterpiece of childhood and self-discovery. ~ Lisa Christie

Nutshell Cover ImageNutshell by Ian McKewan (2016) – This mystery is a clever treasure. Told from the completely original perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. A modern day interpretation of HamletNutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
FC9780316243926.jpgBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. Enjoy. Note, this was also reviewed in our previous post “Books to Inspire Your Summer Travels“.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

When the Elephants Dance by Tessa Uriza Holthe (2002).  This novel provides insight into Filipino culture in the waning days of World War II.  How?  By following the Karangalans – a family who huddles with their neighbors in the cellar of a house near Manila to wait out the war.  The book alternates between 1) heart-wrenching looks at life during war as those hiding in the basement venture out to forage for much-needed food, water and news and, 2) spellbinding myths and legends the group uses to entertain each other while they wait for the war to end.  The book is a testament to the power of stories in giving much-needed resolve to survive. ~ Lisa Christie 

Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel Cover ImageLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (2015). Reviewers compare it to Gone Girl. I just enjoyed reading this page-turner. Indiebound may have summed it best, “with a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive  explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to ‘have it all’ and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.” Have fun. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Fun Book that May Cause You to Rethink Mrs. Bush

American Wife: A Novel Cover ImageAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008). Ms. Sittenfeld’s story of Charlie and Alice made me re-think Mrs. Laura Bush and the politicians who surround her. Hopefully you will enjoy it and rethink your thoughts of many politicians.   As an indie book reviewer from Wisconsin wrote, “The reader will recognize the main characters, Alice and Charlie, as they experience their tempestuous courtship and marriage, and their rise to political fame and fortune. Although the setting is Wisconsin, the protagonists bear a curious resemblance to a couple from Texas who achieved the highest office of the land. This story, told from the perspective of a fictional First Lady, is hard to put down!” ~ Lisa Christie

Creative Short Story Collections

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories Cover ImageAssassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014). From the title story about a man trapped in his flat with a would-be assassin of Prime Minister Thatcher, to a shorter tale about the end of a marriage Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. Basically, a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

Vida Cover ImageVida by Patricia Engel (2010). This collection of linked stories would make a great movie about lives lived between two countries — in this case, Colombia and the USA (mostly New Jersey and Miami). This book follows Sabina, a second generation Colombian American, as she navigates life — a life in which nothing truly terrible or amazing ever happens, but somehow makes a compelling read. Collectively, the stories outline a coming of age tale we can all relate to, whether from a recent immigrant family or not. This collection was Ms. Engel’s debut, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and Young Lions Fiction Award; and a Best Book of the Year by NPR, among other awards. We hope those accolades will convince you to try it, and will encourage someone in Hollywood to bring it to the big screen. ~ Lisa Christie

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories Cover ImageThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015). The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again with a SUPERB book. This time, he provides connected short stories about USSR and Russia from the Cold War through today. I usually don’t like short stories, but this one has remained with me throughout the past few years. To me, it was one of the best books of 2015. And I honestly think it would make a great place for some great book club discussions.  And if you are really short on time before one of your book club gatherings, you could pick one of the stories instead of them all. ~ Lisa Christie

Compelling Nonfiction
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir Cover Image

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (2018). As a mother to two sons, adopted from South America and raised in overwhelmingly white Vermont, this book was truly difficult for me. Chung’s stories of growing up as the rare person of color in her predominantly white community in Oregon and the trauma that she had to work through as a result, hit a little too close to home. Her difficulties with identity and her adoption, tugged hard at my heart and my guilt. Her writing is poignant and pointed as she tells her tale of finding her birth family, exploring her own feelings about motherhood while preparing to give birth for the first time, and discovering what family means to her. In short, this book is a great memoir for anyone interested in the experiences of people of color in the USA, the experiences of adoption in the USA, and how families are formed no matter your race or birth status.~ Lisa Christie

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Cover ImageMy Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2018). I used this book for one of the book clubs I run in my health coaching job.  In this memoir, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist desxcribes her life before and after she experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She watches her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours. However, her stroke was a blessing and enabled many revelations. A great book for intense discussions about life and thinking. ~ Lisa Cadow

Brazilian Adventure Cover ImageBrazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1932). In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure  — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night: A Memoir Cover ImageWest With the Night by Beryl Markham (1942). This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Cover ImageSomething/anything by Brene Brown (assorted years). We first heard of Ms. Brown because of a TED talk. Then she seemed to be everywhere – on multiple NPR interviews, in magazines, books in friends’ homes. So we picked up a book or tow of hers and read.  In all, she takes her research studying difficult emotions such as shame, fear, vulnerability from her career at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and adds insights from her own “mid-life unraveling” and other real life adventures. Her messages throughout are more insightful than they may at first appear. And, she reminds us all that courage, compassion and connection are gifts that only work when exercised. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Pairings: Because They Can Be Twice As Good

Madame Bovary Cover ImageIn One Person Cover ImageMadame 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.

 

On Beauty: A Novel Cover ImageHowards End Cover ImageOn Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006) with Howard’s End by Forster (1910). Ms. Smith retells Howard’s End as the tale of an interracial family living in a university town in Massachusetts. Both sides of the Atlantic play a part in the escapades that ensue. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny. Enjoy and then read Howard’s End, Forster’s classic tale of English social mores at the end of the 19th century and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

Gertrude and Claudius: A Novel Cover ImageHamlet Cover ImageGertrude and Claudius by John Irving (2000) with Hamlet by Shakespeare (1603). Most agree that Gertrude and Claudius are the villains of Hamlet . John Irving creates a Gertrude and Claudius Shakespeare left behind for his imagination. In this slim novel, Mr. Irving tells the tale of Hamlet from the villains’ perspective and things shake out slightly differently.  Read both versions and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

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