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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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