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Archive for the ‘Must Read Memoirs’ Category

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Once again it is mud season in Vermont and this means those of us living in Norwich are thinking about which Table of Content we will attend next month.  The rest of you benefit from our dilemma because we are dedicating this post to the books that are inspiring each dinner, with a review by the hosts as to why they chose their book.

How do these dinners work?  Well, on two April Saturdays (2nd and 30th) in an event called Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library, will host dinners in their homes to raise money for our superb librarians and the building they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts selected as the theme for their evening. To add excitement to the event, dinner guests choose their dinner assignment by the book selections — the location and hosts are revealed only after the selected books and guests have been matched.18201d855ea2f82fb9a2f3bee3777cb4.jpg

How does this relate to books for you to read?  Well, the books they selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your reading preferences because once again, the hosts provided us with an eclectic selection. We thank all the hosts for their contributions to our reading lists and to the library’s bottom line by hosting these delicious fundraising dinners. We truly hope you enjoy reading some of their selections. BONUS for this post only: If you choose to purchase your Tables of Content book from the Norwich Bookstore, they will donate 20% of the purchase price to the Norwich Public Library! Just mention that your purchase is for the Tables of Content event. This applies to ebook sales as well.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Books Inspiring the April 2nd Dinner Parties

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton (2015) – John Grisham called it “a marvelous debut novel… Set in coal country of Appalachia, rich in history and lore and tragedy. The story has everything a big, novel should have, and I hated to put it down.” Join us for a great night of conversation and dinner!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (2015) – In this picaresque novel, John Perdu cures human maladies through his literary apothecary – a book barge on the Seine, in Paris. When he discovers a letter from his past, Mr. Perdu sets out to find love through the people, landscape, and food of Provence. Join us for fun conversation, French food and fine wine from the Norwich Wine Shop. Relaxed and casual!

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)- Join us for an evening of food and drink inspired by Donna Tartt’s intriguing novel The Secret History. The story unfolds at a small Vermont college, where a 20-year-old Californian transplant describes his entry into a mysterious circle of students studying Greek classics in an exclusive program. The events leading up to, and following, a tragic event are all at once suspenseful, mesmerizing and engrossing.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (2015) – In a not too distant future, California has completely dried up and is inhabited by the remnants of society who chose to live in arid independence. Surviving on rationed cola and squatting in an abandoned mansion, a former model and army deserter embark on an adventure when a mysterious child enters their lives. Watkins’ powerful use of language keeps you thirsty for every drop of water as an encroaching desert threatens to swallow what’s left of humanity. The characters in the book no longer have access to California cuisine, but dinner guests will dine on local foods and wines made famous in The Golden State. Attire is Californian casual.

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas (2011) – Sira Quiroga lives alone in Madrid with her seamstress mother and apprentices under her during her teens. By 20, she’s a professional seamstress and engaged to a mild-mannered government clerk. Sira thinks she knows the trajectory of her life until she meets a handsome, charismatic salesman who sweeps her off her feet. This leads to a chain of events that lands Sira in Morocco abandoned, penniless, and hopelessly in debt. In desperation, she falls back on her dressmaking skills and builds a successful business which ultimately brings her back to Madrid on a dangerous mission. There, she becomes the preeminent couturier of Nazi wives and is is enmeshed in the world of espionage. Join us for Spanish-inspired food and drink and a discussion about how ordinary citizens can make extraordinary contributions in challenging times, then and now. Dress is casual.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1965) – Hemingway’s incredible memoir of life as an American ex-pat in Paris provides the theme for this French inspired meal. Your hosts for the evening came to read this book late in our lives; and we are so glad we finally found the time to enjoy his view of life in Paris and his quest for literary fame. This feast may even move outside if the spring-like weather holds. But inside or outside, we’ll celebrate life among the authors, painters and conversationalists that surrounded Hemingway, and we will serve a meal inspired by life along the Seine. Reading the book in advance is not required. We look forward to welcoming you to our table; please join us!

Books Inspiring April 30th Dinners

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food by Barbara Kingsolver (2007) – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a most impressive piece of work.  Barbara Kingsolver makes a convincing case for putting diversified farms at the center of American food production and home cooking at the center of eating. The book is filled with engaging research, beautiful imagery, and delightful humor. Be prepared to gain new perspectives on the ‘industrial-food pipeline’ and the many benefits of eating locally. Creating a food culture that’s better for the neighborhood and better on the table is the important idea explored here. Barbara Kingsolver began her family’s journey in the month of April eating locally sourced food, and we’ll follow her lead. Our farm-to-table dinner will be made from all local ingredients. Dress is casual. Please bring a passage you enjoyed from the book or a story about your favorite locally-sourced foods.

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britian by Bill Bryson (2016) – His words are witty, historically accurate, at times socially unacceptable, and frequently irreverent. His geography and sense of place are wonderfully described in a journey that roughly follows the Bryson line from Bognor Regis in the South  to Cape Wrath in the North.  Mr. Bryson invites us to accompany him as a fellow traveler, sharing his experiences as if we were there. An old map of the UK will be provided and guests are invited to place pins on their favorite villages and share a favorite story. All this to be accompanied by cosmopolitan fare while we eschew the stewed tomatoes, clotted cream and spotted dick. His prose is precise, humorous, and yes, again irreverent. Guests are encouraged to select a favorite passage to be read aloud. Dress is British Casual.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (2014) – “She was thinking about the way she’d always taken for granted that the world had certain people in it… How without any one of these people the world is subtly but unmistakably an altered place, the dial turned just one or two degrees.” Welcome to Year 20, when survivors of an apocalyptic flu pandemic and of the ensuing chaos remake their worlds after so many lives interrupted. Shakespeare’s work survives, while the Internet, cell phones and jet travel are no more. Our characters are connected by a moment in time and by relationships that reveal themselves in life and art. Come connect with new friends and neighbors in our moment in time, and we’ll share great food, drink and merriment.  

The Heist by Daniel Silva (2014) – Stolen art, international espionage, a Middle East dictator — A thrilling page turner, The Heist by Daniel Silva follows Israeli spy/art restorer, Gabriel Allon across Europe and the Middle East as he hunts for one of the world’s most famous stolen paintings.The Heist was one of Penny McConnel’s selections for Pages in the Pub this past December. Please join us for some great Italian food, wine and conversation with others who like to indulge in some of the finest spy fiction.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) – In the midst of a national epidemic of injustice, particularly toward black men, this personal, moving, poetic, and sensitive letter of an African-American father writing to his teenage son about racism in America is something we all need to consider as a community. Alongside a discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates gripping story, Between the World and Me, we’ll enjoy the comforts of a warm meal and good drink. Dress is casual!

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl (2014) – To a mouth-watering base of the Manhattan foodie scene, add zesty insider information about magazine publishing. Mix well with a dash of mystery, a sprinkle of romance, a generous pinch of food history, and a scant spoonful of personal tragedy. The resulting literary confection is Delicious!, the first novel by legendary Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl. The New York Times Book Review sums it up as “a whole passel of surprises: a puzzle to solve; a secret room; hidden letters; the legacy of James Beard; and a parallel, equally plucky heroine from the past, who also happens to be a culinary prodigy.” Great food and a great story–what could be more fun, or delicious?! In keeping with the spirit of the book, our menu will rely on recipes from the Gourmet archives (but will NOT include any dishes developed to accommodate the limitations of wartime rationing!). No cast-iron guarantees, but Billie’s Gingerbread may make an appearance. So fire up your palate and come prepared to guess the secret ingredient in one of the dishes (a prize will be awarded!) and to entertain the group with a story about the best /most exotic meal you have ever had. Dress is colorful New York City creative; no all-black allowed!

The Martian by Andy Weir (2014) – After being left for dead during a brutal Martian storm, astronaut Mark Watney is forced to use his wits to survive. As he regains the ability to communicate with NASA and rescue missions are launched, we follow his ambitious plan to leave the red planet behind. Join us for some disco music (courtesy of a music collection) and a delightful dinner that will push the limits of molecular gastronomy. As is only fair, potatoes will feature heavily in both food and drink, but there will also be feats of edible engineering that would challenge even Watney’s resourcefulness. Be prepared to science the sh*t out of this feast while calculating how many pirate ninjas are required to power a rover down Main St.

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1890) – Drugs, murder, marriage, stolen treasure, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, London – Sherlock Holmes! How could that be anything but fun?  Please join us for an exotic evening where we’ll seek to blend both the East and West. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. We’ll chat. There’s just so much to talk about! We’re bound to have fun. Please come.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – We followed Joe Rantz on his incredible journey from a challenging, often heart wrenching childhood, to the University of Washington rowing team, to the winning rowing team of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Along the way we thought long and hard about resilience, opportunity, personal journeys, and the pure and special beauty of being part of an amazing team.  We even learned a thing or two about making boats! Join us for a dinner made for champions — you’ll eat and drink like an Olympian, and enjoy a great conversation to boot! Dress is sporty casual. Guests are strongly encouraged to share their favorite quote from the book, and their own best experiences as part of Olympic-like teams.

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Every year the annual Oscar broadcasts honors movies, but inadvertently it also honors books, because many movies find their inspiration in literature. This year was no exception. So as the 2016 Oscar buzz fades, we review some of the books behind two of this year’s Oscar nominated movies, as well as a book or three we think would make great movies (you are welcome Hollywood).

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Brooklyn by Colm Toiban (2009) This film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is one of the rare examples of a movie that is as good as the book — though, at times, it is notably different. Brooklyn is a coming of age story about a girl, Eilis, who leaves Ireland post World War II to travel to New York for better prospects. She arrives alone, leaving behind her beloved sister, Rose, her mother and brothers. Brave, smart Eilis carves out a life for herself and even finds a beau in sweet Tony before tragedy calls her unexpectedly back to Ireland. Brooklyn is a complicated love story, one that also paints one of the most poignant pictures of homesickness and a rough transatlantic journey that we have ever read. It is definitely a book that will stay with the reader and generate plenty of discussion for lucky book groups that have yet to select it. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Room by Emma Donoghue (2010). There’s now way around it, the concept behind this novel sounds awfully depressing: a woman and her five year old son son are held captive in one room (the mother for seven years and the son since his birth). The mother, however, with her grit and creativity, makes the entire experience an adventure to preserve some semblance of her son’s childhood, as well as her own sanity. Somehow, the book leaves the reader feeling hopeful. Well-written, suspenseful and worth recommending to friends looking for a “good read”. The movie received four Oscar nods, including best picture, Actress in a Leading Role (SHE WON), Directing, and Adapted Screenplay. NOTE: Last reviewed on the Bookjam in October 2015 as a book we would (actually) reread if we had the time. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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And now a few that we think should become movies (and as an unintended bonus would help make the Oscar contenders a bit less white – a very good outcome in our vision).

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black, and female in America. Ms. Ward begins with a two year period of time, shortly after she graduated college, during which five boys who she grew up with along the Mississippi Coast experienced violent deaths. (Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath also play a role in this drama.) Her prose illuminates these dead young men and the people who loved/still love them; it also exposes the people behind the statistics that almost one in ten young black men are in jail, and that murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of twenty-four. And while the material is difficult, the memoir is not; it is insightful, introspective, beautifully written, and important. At some point Ms. Ward states that the series of deaths is “a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.” We are glad she found her voice and told her story. And, we truly hope to see it on a big screen soon. ~ Lisa Christie

Vida 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 Cadow and Lisa Christie

For those of you who prefer Romantic Comedies for your movie enjoyment, we reviewed this next book – Eight Hundred Grapes – as part of our 2015 end of summer reading picks. We thought it would be a good movie then, and we stand by that now. (Keeping with our theme of picks that would make films less white, we challenge the producers to cast Asians, Latinos, African Americans, Indians, Native Americans, or other ethnic groups in some of the roles or as directors, best boys, or grips or…) NOTE: Apparently we do pretty well when picking books that should also be movies, we just discovered that shortly after we posted our review, FOX optioned this book for film. Coincidence? We think not.

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (2015) – The title refers to the number of grapes required to make a bottle of wine. The story revolves around a Sonoma, California vineyard and the family who has tended it for decades. The novel launches with the narrator, a successful LA lawyer with a lovely British architect for a fiance, sitting, inappropriately dressed, in her brothers’ bar after discovering there is more to her fiance than she believed. When she retreats to her family’s vineyard to think, she learns her fiance is not the only one with secrets. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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In plenty of time for Super Tuesday voting, this “3 Questions” features Ted Rall author of Bernie. Mr. Rall is a political cartoonist, opinion columnist, graphic novelist and occasional war correspondent whose work has appeared in hundreds of publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice, and Los Angeles Times. He twice won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
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Mr. Rall will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Friday, February 26 to discuss his latest book, Bernie, a graphic novel discussing the life of Vermont’s junior US Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (Please note his visit is not on the Bookstore’s typical Wednesday author event slot.)

The event with Mr. Rall 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?

Various compilations of the cartoons of Jules Feiffer, because he was the cartoonist who showed me the possibilities offered by verbose cartoons, and tackling politics through the people affected rather than the politicians. 1984 by George Orwell, because it was so completely committed to its (bleak) vision. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, because of its ambitiousness, trying to explain a phenomenon (Nazism) that remains impossible to process, even today.

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

Adolf Hitler, author of Mein Kampf. I want to know what the hell he was thinking, and why, and could he have been talked out of it.

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

Days of Rage by Bryan Burrough, Congo by David van Reybrouck, Mussolini by Laura Fermi (out of print), The Embrace of Unreason by Frederick Brown.

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Once again we approach African American/Black History Month with curiosity and questions. In addition to pondering why only one month is devoted to contributions of African Americans, we are embracing February’s heightened attention to contributions of African Americans as an opportunity to review GREAT books by Black authors. One is considered a classic; others are brand new, some somewhat new. One is geared to kids, others for adults, and one for young adults. But, we recommend them all. (We also revisited our past year of reviews to see how well we represented the diversity of race and culture that books offer us. Details of our annual audit are at the end of this post.)

Enjoy!

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God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (paperback January, 2016). A  story about the power of parenting and its unforeseen effects on our children (and society). I have only read Beloved so am a relative newcomer to the power of Morrison’s prose. This story is the only one of Morrison’s books to be set in the modern day yet it has a timeless, almost parable-like quality to it. It centers on two main characters, young lovers Bride and Booker, both in their 20’s, whose life paths and current missteps have been and continue to be affected by the events of the actions of their parents.  We meet them in glitzy, bustling LA but follow them to a quiet, obscure town in northern California that provides a backdrop for painful truths to emerge. Morrison addresses the subject of racism within the black community as well as the epidemic of sexual abuse within our society. There are, however, themes of hope, new life, and healing woven in throughout. Not an easy read but an important one.~ Lisa Cadow

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1975) – Somehow I missed reading this classic in my youth, which is why I am so glad my 4th grader chose this book for our current read-aloud. While the subject matter is tear-inducing, this ten-year-old and I are enjoying this well told tale of a loving family living through horrific relations among black and white populations in a rural town. In fact, my son keeps comparing this novel to Stella By Starlight, another book we read aloud about “messed up” (as my teen would say) race relations that I highly recommend (reviewed on my ongoing reading list). He also connected this book to what he heard on the news during the past year, resulting in many great conversations. ~ Lisa Christie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (2015). On page ten of this succinct, accessible manifesto, Adichie already has readers laughing out loud when she describes herself as  “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men”. Full of disarming humor, this book invites serious discussion about a term (feminist) that is challenging to unpack the world over – whether you live in Nigeria or New York. Adichie raises lots of “What if’s?” about the future, ponders the present, and tells stories of her own family and upbringing in Africa. This work was inspired by a a TEDx talk Adichie delivered in 2006. If you would like to see it, watch here. Please share the it – and the book – with your daughter, your son, everyone. ~ Lisa Cadow (Lisa Christie wholeheartedly seconds this review)

Black Man in a White Coat by Tweedy Damon, MD (2015) – “It’s up to us, as doctors, to find the commonalities and respect the differences between us and our patients,” Dr. Tweedy writes. This examination of a black man’s medical education and subsequent service as a doctor offers insight, honesty, and questions about the role of race in America today. I enjoyed every self-reflective moment of being with Dr. Damon in his memoir; may all my doctors embody his compassion. (This would make a great gift for the medical students/doctors in your life.) As a NYTimes review of this book states, “on one level the book is a straightforward memoir; on another it’s a thoughtful, painfully honest, multi-angled, constant self-interrogation about himself and about the health implications of being black in a country where blacks are more likely than other groups to suffer from, for instance, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure and cancer.” ~ Lisa Christie

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Two authors, one black and one white, were placed together on a book tour. As a result, they became friends as they bonded over their sadness/dismay/anger over what was happening to black teens in the USA (i.e., Trayvon Martin, Ferguson). As a result of their need to make sense of what they were seeing and to help, they created this book – their view of an incident in which a young black man is beaten by a white cop. The tale is told in alternating chapters and voices – one voice being the black male who was beaten and the other a white teen who witnessed the beating. Nothing is as simple as it seems, but the voices feel real, and I love the idea of these two authors collaborating on such an important issue. This novel also reminded me of another book I loved and highly recommend – Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, reviewed on the Book Jam last June~ Lisa Christie

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We end today’s recommendations with a review of how broad a selection of authors we have featured since last February’s diversity audit. We found that during the past twelve months, we reviewed books by 140 authors. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” and “Guest Author” posts as we do not choose those all of those books.)  Slightly over half (59%) of the authors we featured were women, 37% were men, and 4% were written by groups of authors or organizations such as Lonely Planet. A majority of the authors we featured (77%) were white, with 23% authors of color. Overall, 15% of the authors we featured were nonwhite Africans or African Americans, 4% Hispanics, and 2% Asians. Geographically speaking, we featured almost all the continents, with 56% of featured authors hailing from the USA, 33% from Europe, 7% from Canada, 3% from Australia, and 2% from Africa.

To sum, we can and will do better featuring authors of color.

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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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books-colorful-stackThe Book Jam Lisas have a favorite gift to present when significant events arise in the lives of loved ones (e.g., 10th, 20th, 50th anniversary, or 20th, 40th, 60th birthday). Yes, of course this gift involves books, but the key to this gift resides in the selection. For this gift, you as the giver, select one best selling book from the year of the original event (wedding or birthday), and then one for every subsequent decade, finishing with a book from the year of the current gift giving occasion. We recognize this description may make no sense at all, so we play out two examples below.

Rest assured we have given this gift to many, and it has been LOVED, LOVED, LOVED by recipients everywhere. Bonus for this gift — as you pick titles to give, you will discover some books you missed reading when they were first published, and the stack of great books to read on your own bed side table will grow.

GIFT-GIVING SCENARIO #1 — Your parents/grandparents/neighbors celebrate their 40th (or you celebrate yours)

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Pick #1 is from 1975, the year they married

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurty – Before the Academy award winning movie, there was a novel revolving around two women – Aurora and her daughter Emma, and their struggle to find the courage and humor needed to live through life’s hazards. This is something we are certain any long married couple can relate to.

Pick #2 hails from 1985

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is also a romantic. This book is their story. We think it will be fun for any married couple to read.

Pick #3 was published in 1995

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – Mr. Hornby is reliably funny as an author, and his books almost always inspire a movie that can be watched once you finish the book. In this outing, the life of a record store owner, who spends his life making top five lists (e.g., top 5 Elvis Costello songs), changes a bit when his girlfriend leaves him. He actually finds this a relief as “how can he have a future with a girl with a bad record collection?” Then once single, life with the girlfriend looks so much better. Bonus– the book will make married life look superb for the gift recipients.

Pick #4 is from 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – Nine-year-old Oskar has an urgent mission to find the lock matching a key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11. This task becomes an emotional, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey throughout New York City. 9-11 was a huge event in any marriage that lived through it. This book will help the couple receiving this gift talk about it in a new way.

Pick #5, the final selection is from 2015, the year of this special occasion

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)  – The next Gone Girl (from a British perspective), will make the gift recipients’ own relationship and its endurance seem that much more special. We can not say much more as almost any description of the plot will ruin the experience of reading it, but we recommend reading it before the inevitable movie based upon its prose arrives in a theater near you.

GIFT-GIVING SCENARIO #2 — Your girlfriend/niece/daughter/goddaughter turns twenty in 2015.

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Pick #1 comes from 1995, the year of their birth

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama – The current President, the one people born in 1995 remember most clearly at this point, published this autobiography during the year they were born. So, that seems like a great place to start this gift to people born in 1995. In this memoir, President Obama explores what it meant to him to be the son of a black African father and a white American mother. His book takes you from small town Kansas, from which President Obama retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, and places in between. Note: President Obama won a grammy for his recording of this memoir; so, an audio-book version might be a great option.

Pick #2 was published in 2005, when they were ten

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Many high schoolers across the country have read this as part of required reading lists because it is an amazing book of the Holocaust with an unusual narrator – Death. You should read it and give it because it 1) will change you and the gift recipient, 2) is well-written, and 3) reminds you that in the heart of the worst darkness there is hope and there are good people. And ultimately, this novel is about the power of books and stories.

Pick #3, the final pick, is from 2015, the year of this special occasion

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love and life told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch – living in Indiana, trying to figure out what their senior year of HS means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). We can not recommend it highly enough; but, be warned you will be very, very sad, as well as happy, while you read this book. Your gift recipient will be thrilled to be reminded that High School and all its angst is behind them.

You get the idea.  And, what is truly, truly great about this idea, is that it works for anyone, for any occasion, year after year. Have fun finding the perfect books for the loved ones in your life.

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