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Archive for the ‘Must Read Memoirs’ Category

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Mother’s Day is on the horizon, and after some recent excellent reading, we feel the need to recommend some good books for gift giving. However, we have done this many times in the past, and don’t want to be too repetitive.

So instead, today we review some new books about motherhood that perhaps everyone should read in preparation for honoring – and remembering what it’s like to be – mothers.

All of these titles would make great gifts for the mothers in your life – they feature edgy, introspective, smart, honest, and fun writing. And, if you are still looking for more ideas for gifts, you can find some great titles in all our past reviews, including the ones where we tried to cultivate a specific list for mom’s day gifts.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

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FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times.

My new short-term goal – to meet this author. Since we are both Vermonters, achieving it may be as simple as just driving the state asking who knows her; eventually, with this method, I will find her. So be forewarned Ms. Harrington, I may exhibit stalker like tendencies soon. But more likely, I will merely ask the fabulous booksellers at the Norwich Bookstore to let Ms. Harrington know she has a new fan. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316393843.jpgAnd Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell (2018) – The catchy title of this new memoir immediately begs the question: “But is anyone ever ready for motherhood?” O’Connell initially thinks that she is, though her positive pregnancy test does come as a surprise to her and her fiance. With this book, she bravely charts her physical and emotional journey from single New York career woman-writer to the end of her first year with a toddler. Nothing is off limits: her pregnancy anxieties, a difficult labor, her maternal ambivalence, sex (or lack thereof) after delivery, “to daycare or not to daycare?”, or finding new, true mommy friends. In a nutshell, O’Connell describes the wonder-filled but very rocky road to becoming a family of three in a timeless yet contemporary way. Even as a mother with adult children, I fully related to her emotions – the raw, honest way that she writes made my own experiences feel close and fresh again.  I even found a tear of recognition rolling down my cheek in her final chapter. As soon as I finished, I ran out and purchased a copy for a friend who is newly pregnant. It is the perfect gift for new mothers.

We found our way to this book because it was featured in an excellent New York Times piece about recent books about motherhood. ~ Lisa Cadow

BONUS PICK

FC9780544002234.jpgAre You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel (2012) – One of us read this graphic novel years ago when it first published; one of us is in the midst of it now.  Thus, neither of us can review it in detail today. However, it immediately sprang to mind when we thought about this post. So, for today’s review, we will use the words of Jonathan Safran Froer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated,Are You My Mother is a work of the most humane kind of genius, bravely going right to the heart of things: why we are who we are. It’s also incredibly funny. And visually stunning. And page-turningly addictive. And heartbreaking.” We both found our way to this book because we are huge fans of Ms. Bechdel (note: a fellow Vermonter).

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Once again we highlight books that in some fashion address sexual assault as part National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. We promise each of these books is a great book in its own right; we just unite them here because they each in some way help us think about how to prevent violence in both words and deeds. They also provide an excuse to once again highlight the important work of WISE — our local organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence through survivor-centered advocacy, prevention, education, and mobilization for social change. In this age of #metoo, we still believe in the power of books to provide greater understanding of sexual assault, and its costs for all of us.

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FC9780062362599.jpgHunger by Roxane Gay (2017) – I don’t think I have ever read such a well-written, honest, and brutal account of sexual assault and its aftermath. This sounds like a horrific reason to pick up a book; and, it is horrid to think that the author endured a brutal and life-altering assault at age 12. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal and punctuated with self-loathing. That said, her story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than horror; this memoir is also filled with hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, mistakes, social commentary, and always, always her body and her relationship with it. If you wish to understand how sexual assault affects people long after the crime, Ms. Gay will help. If you have ever tried to explain your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If you have never understood this relationship, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese often feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift to you. If you have a complicated relationship with your body, Ms. Gay shows you are not alone. If you just want to spend some time with a talented writer of insight, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. (Previously reviewed in We’re Back, with Two Great Books from Our “Gone Reading Break“.)  ~Lisa Christie

FC9781616205041-1.jpgYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) – For those of us who lived through the Bill Clinton sexual relations intern scandal, this book will seem familiar. What might not seem so familiar is the humor and candor about society’s standards contained in this “light” novel about how decisions we make when we are young have implications. (Also reviewed during our recent Pages in the Pub.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from the perspective of a MSNBC and MBC reporter who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election.  Why do we include it here?  Because part of this book deals with Candidate Trump’s treatment of women including an unwanted, unexpected, and unprofessional kiss of Ms. Tur by Mr. Trump. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.”  (First reviewed on LAST Minute Holiday Gift Ideas.) ~Lisa Christie

FC9780312674397.jpgSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2001) – What happens when a high school student attends a party and is raped by an upperclassman, someone she has to see every day at school afterwards? Ms. Anderson provided one answer to this question long before the #metoo movement in this page-turning book for young adults.  Years after reading this award-winning young adult novel, we still remember being completely taken by the narrator, Melinda, and her story. This thought-provoking YA novel bursts open many of the hypocritical aspects of high school and illustrates the importance of learning to speak up for oneself (and we would argue to speak up for those who can not speak for themselves), while opening a window into the horrors of rape. Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. (First reviewed in another WISE post years ago.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307949486.jpgGirl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005) – Perhaps the ultimate revenge novel, this thriller follows a woman and her ways of coping with unspeakable childhood trauma. It is an international bestseller, twice a movie, and spawned the translation into many languages of crime stories by many, many Scandinavian authors. (First reviewed in Summer’s Sneaky Pleasures Scandinavian Thrillers.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781449486792-1.jpgthe sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) – Somehow we missed her first best-selling book, but in a time where the news is full of people behaving horribly and many of us feeling some angst and hopelessness, Ms. Kaur’s honest poems about heart-break, loss, rape, love, relationships, and hope are just what we needed. “To hate is an easy lazy thing but to love takes strength everyone has but not all are willing to practice” seems a perfect thought for today’s news. And, “a lot of times we are angry at other people for not doing what we should have done for ourselves” hit home. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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We hesitate to follow the joy of family celebrations for Passover and Easter, and the first signs of true spring with a post about war and refugees. However, waking this morning and hearing news from the weekend about immigrants in the USA, and noting that Syria has really never left the news for years, we are forging ahead with reviewing books that help us all learn a bit more about refugees and war. As much as we’d love for the world to be at peace, it is not. And, we firmly believe reading great books about important topics is a great way we can all help move the needle towards peace.

So, today we review two books about refugees and war that help us look a little deeper than the NPR stories and newspaper articles on these topics. One book is a fictional account of war in an unnamed country that could be Syria. The other is a first person account by a child of living in a war zone – in her case Syria. Both are important, helpful, and we believe worth your time.

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FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – We LOVE this novel.  It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important topics (e.g., immigration, war). Clever in every way. Two bonus aspects — 1) it is an excellent Book Club choice; and, 2) it is now available in paperback.

Now, a brief plot summary that in no way does this book justice: two young people — fierce Nadia and gentle Saeed — meet as their home country teeters on the brink and then eventually succumbs to civil war. Their struggle to find and create home, spans this terrific novel about refugees, war, randomness, friendship, kindness, family, and love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781501178443.jpgDear World by Bana Alabed (2018) — I don’t tweet so I missed the “real-time” story of this young Syrian. But, I am so glad I found Ms. Alabed’s book about her life. Tragically, her idyllic childhood ended at age three when civil war arrived in Aleppo. As war continued, she endured bombing, destruction, and fear while trapped with her family with little to no access to food, water, or medicine. Eventually, Ms. Alabed and her family escape to Turkey. Throughout, she tweeted about her experience. These tweets and some prose from her mother comprise this moving and important first-hand account about living in war and being a refugee. Is this high literature? Probably not; but, it is a raw first hand account of living in a war zone and being a refugee. And, sometimes it takes a kid to bring the horrors of the headlines to life. Don’t take our word for it though. JK Rowling described this book as “a story of love and courage amid brutality and terror, this is the testimony of a child who has endured the unthinkable.” ~ Lisa Christie

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It’s that time of year — a time when those of us lucky to be near Norwich, Vermont can combine food, books, and great company in a fun pair of evenings entitled Tables of Content. Lucky because what could be better than raising money for an incredible public library (our own Norwich Public Library), meeting new people, eating great food, and discussing superb books and the topics they lead us to?  For those of us unable to join a Tables of Content gathering, take heart, the books being discussed as well as a brief blurb about the book and the evening are listed below. We hope these reviews both inspire those of us near Norwich to attend a Table of Content, and that they help those of us who are not nearby, to read a great book and find some good food.

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Tables on Saturday April 7, 2018

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) – NPR called Exit West “a breathtaking novel by one of the world’s most fascinating young writers…Hamid encourages to us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, even when they’ve lived lives much harder than anything we’ve endured. We have nothing in common except the most essential things, the things that make us human.” The book is on all the best books of 2017 lists — let’s read it and find out why! Then join us for a family-style meal inspired by the delicious and palate awakening cuisines of those who have come to our country from far, far away to begin again. *Sorry, but please choose a different different TOC if spices and flavors from other parts of the world are not your bag! Vegetarians welcome!

FC9781501126062.jpgSing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017) – Set in rural Mississippi, told from each character’s point of view, we learn about the untimely and extremely unfortunate deaths of two people, different generations, both a result of racial strife, who come to haunt a mother and her son. The focus is a broken family in rural Mississippi — a failed black mother, her husband whose cousin killed her brother and is about to be released from jail, her sensitive and paternal thirteen year old son, and the toddler, who adores her older brother. The torments of imprisonment, racism, and innate hatred are weaved throughout the narrative. But we’ll manage to keep the conversation lively and the food just might have to include some southern biscuits!

FC9780062120397.jpgThe Son by Philip Meyer (2013) – ​The Son covers 200 tumultuous years of Texas history, as told by three generations of the McCullough family.  Much of the story centers around Eli McCullough, who was kidnapped by Comanches at the age of 13 in 1849, and went on to become a Texas Ranger and then a cattle baron at the turn of the 20th century.  We also hear the voices of Peter McCullough, Eli’s conflicted son, and Jeannie, his great-granddaughter who watches the family wealth shift from cattle to oil.  But while The Son is a great read that provides a detailed portrait of the triumphs and brutalities of frontier life, we’re really in it for the food. We’ll be feasting on beef brisket (imported from our favorite brisket maker) and other Texan treats, while sampling four kinds of whiskey from Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas.

FC9780374228088.jpgThe Wine Lover’s Daughter by Anne Fadiman (2017) – We found a memoir of a happy father-daughter relationship to guide our Tables of Content evening!  What miraculous book you might ask? Answer: Anne Fadiman’s (of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down fame) portrait of her famous father Clifton. Born in 1904, Clifton rose far above his early beginnings, but remained impressively down to earth. His dream to teach at Columbia ended when he was told they could only hire one Jew (Lionel Trilling). So Clifton pivoted and became a rising star of the editorial and publishing world. His career included writing for the New Yorker, being an editor for Simon & Schuster, a judge for Book-of- the-Month Club, and co-author of The Lifetime Reading Plan (still in print.) However, lucky for us, wine might have been his greatest joy. Join us as we celebrate wine and the written word. Our menu will harken back to 20th century Manhattan (vegetarians welcome!). Let’s raise a glass to family and sharing stories around the table.Related imageTables on Saturday, April 14, 2018

FC9780143118527.jpgThe Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak (2010) – Written by the most widely read female writer in Turkey, this is a lyrical tale of parallel narratives. Ella Rubenstein finds herself drawn to the life of Rumi and his teaching based on the unity of all people and religions. Our dinner will feature delicious foods from many regions. Please join us as we discuss love, life and all that makes us human.

FC9780199537150.jpgFrankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1818) – 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. Through her seminal work, Shelley sparked the imaginations of generations to question the balance between progress and ethics. Join us in a gastronomical laboratory where food, fun, conversation, and science meet.

FC9780062409218.jpgNews of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016) – Before fake news, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd earned money by reading newspaper articles from far-flung locales to audiences throughout northern Texas. After raising a family, fighting in two wars, and completing a career in printing, the widower Captain Kidd enjoyed a nomadic carefree lifestyle in his twilight years. His life takes a most unexpected turn when he’s asked to deliver a 10-year orphan, who had been kidnapped by Native American Kiowa raiders four years earlier, to surviving relatives 400 miles away. Come share their remarkable journey of danger and discovery while enjoying food of the region as interpreted by your New England hosts.

FC9781476753867.jpgThe Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (2018) – Tale of a young immigrant in the 1920’s who tries to become part of Richard Byrd’s Antarctic Expedition, during an era when the American media and populous is swept up in daring feats of formidable explorers like Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart. Theme for dinner: 1920’s common meals, as found in Fannie Merritt Farmers The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (Jessie Thorburn Kendall’s copy- My Great Grandmother).

FC9781616207823.jpgWhat Unites Us by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner (2017) – This is a gently presented, welcome overview of the long life of a journalist and observer of our country who also considers himself a deeply patriotic American. Rather’s evenhanded and civil insights into some very difficult current topics are accurately suggested by calling out the section heads in his table of contents (beginning with his pages simply entitled “What is Patriotism?”): Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility, and Character. Please join us for a meal that we will create in the spirit of celebrating the warmth and comfort we enjoy in this melting pot of Norwich, Vermont, USA.

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images-1As March roared into Vermont like a lion (and seems prepared to roar again with yet another nor’easter tonight), we asked our favorite booksellers to review the one book they are recommending right now. It is our hope this list will help those of us in the Northeast enjoy the next snowstorm a little more by adding a few reasons to curl up by a roaring fire, and that it will also help those of you who reside elsewhere find your next great book to read.

Thank you Norwich Bookstore Booksellers. As always, your selections have added to the stack of books weighing down our bedside tables.

And now, their list:

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Beth recommends:

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (2018) – Honest and enlightening, Jerkins’ debut essay collection is just what I wanted it to be– short bits that allow me to sit with a topic for awhile before plunging straight back in for more. There are surprising points of connection, but more importantly I’ve learned about black culture and her experience with men, hair products, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It takes courage to write about one’s life at such a young age. The shortest passages “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” pack a gut punch. They may be small, but they are fierce. That last line is everything. It gives me the inspiration to keep writing, keep pushing, keep reaching. The best essays teach and inspire in equal measure, Jerkins is one to watch.

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Brenna recommends:

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley (2018) – Oh, how I love the mercenary mind of 12-year-old Flavia De Luce. Like Louise Penny and Laurie R King, Alan Bradley succeeds in writing mysteries whose nuanced characters drive the story as much as any plot-device. The ninth book in this series is no different. The young chemist with a fondness for poisons, is accompanied by her two sisters and Dogger, the family friend/servant, on a boating trip, when she almost immediately hooks a body. Not just any body- this body is the son of a notorious poisoner- just the thing to rapturously distract our macabre little heroine from the enormous loss her family is (in their reserved, very British way) attempting to reconcile.

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Carin recommends:

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2017) – Sebastian Barry (in my opinion, Ireland’s best living writer) won the Costa Prize for this mesmerizing novel. It is filled with the travails, loves and adventures of an Irish immigrant to America in the mid-1800s who survives the Indian Wars, the Civil War and Andersonville Prison.

It’s violent, but then so was that era in America’s history. This is stop-you-in-your-tracks writing, and you learn a lot about what it was like to be Irish then.

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Jennifer recommends:

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman (2017) – I love this cookbook. I’m reading it like a book of short stories. The little essays describing how she came to develop the recipes draw me into her cooking mindset. The recipes themselves are quite approachable, and the ones I’ve already made came out beautifully. I especially appreciate that she provides alternate methods for ingredient prep and doesn’t assume, for instance, that everyone owns a food processor.

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Kathryn recommends:

Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage by Brian Castner (2018) – A book filed with historical content and present day adventure. In 1789, Scottish explorer and fur trader, Alexander MacKenzie set out to find the Northwest Passage, a shorter route to China. In 2016, Brian Castner began a 1,124 mile journey in a canoe to retrace MacKenzie’s earlier trek in search of that missing waterway. Great read for that cathartic wilderness experience of suffering from your armchair.

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Liza B. recommends:

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (2018) – When we are upset, it is important to be heard! Often our well-meaning friends try to sooth, distract, or even plan revenge. What we need is a Rabbit in our lives: some one who is present, who listens, who understands, rather than trying to fix things for us. An important book in these times of breakage and shouting; an oasis of healing and comfort. The uncluttered illustrations pair perfectly with the simple text creating a clear yet complex tale.

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Penny recommends:

Personal History by Katharine Graham (1997) – I came to this absorbing memoir after seeing the recent film, The Post. Although written 20 years ago, this Pulitzer Prize winning biography remains a strong and insightful read. Graham reveals she spent most of her first 40 years as a shy, insecure person. After the suicide of her husband Phil Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, Katharine took the helm. She played a monumentally important role in shaping our nation’s history as she quietly guided the paper through many turbulent years, including exposing The Pentagon Papers and Watergate. This is a frank, honest and courageous account of a woman who found her sense of self in a man’s world. To me, she is a remarkable role model.

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Sara recommends:

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira (2018) – Oliveira’s second novel about a spirited and determined woman, Mary Sutter. Her first offering, My Name is Mary Sutter, about the young Mary, an experienced midwife who, against immeasurable odds, trains to be a surgeon during the Civil War, won the Michael Shaara Award for Civil War Fiction. This book, also beautifully written, has a sinister slant. Mary, now an established physician with a successful family practice leads the citizenry of Albany in a desperate, exhaustive search for two missing girls, sisters lost during a cataclysmic winter storm. Also lost are their parents in sweeping tragedies of snow and flood that nearly destroy the local lumber mills. Intrigue, politics, and finally, grit get the girls back to the Sutter home. Tenderness and love temper their mistreatment and recovery. An untried attorney skillfully puts the pieces of the case together and sensitively draws out the girls’ account of what happened. During a climactic prosecution, the perpetrator is discovered and a raw justice is served. Haunting but ultimately satisfying.

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Susan recommends:

The Taster by V.S. Alexander (2018) – Berlin 1943: Twenty-five year old Magda Ritter’s parents send their daughter to relatives in the countryside of Berchtesgarden to wait out the war. But Berchetesgarden is the site of Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda’s aunt and uncle are passionate Nazis and believe every true German must serve the Fuhrer. With limited jobs available in the small town, they pull their few strings to get Magda an interview with the Reich. Several weeks later she is working for Hitler – as one of the tasters who will sample every dish prepared for him. Based on the life of Margot Woelk, who kept her wartime occupation a guarded secret until she was 95 years old, and peopled with fictionalized versions of other inhabitants of Hitler’s intimate household, this historical novel presents the final years of the war from the German perspective. Loyalty, love and betrayal – to oneself, one’s family and one’s country are key themes which resonate in 2018.

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Every year we audit the diversity of the authors we review 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 in our next year of reviews.

During the twelve months since our February 2017 audit, we reviewed 164 authors. If you have no interest in the audit results and only wish to see our new reviews of four great books, just scroll down to the next image — the new reviews start there.

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.

Now some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 59% of the authors we featured. Fewer than half (41%) of all authors we featured were white women, and some (18%) of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. Fewer than 10% of our featured authors were Latinas (5%) or Asian women (4%); and, 15% of the authors were black (either African or African-American) women.

There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a third (28%) of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. Ten percent of the male authors were black. Very few authors we featured were Asian men (1%) or Latinos (1%).

Adding men and women together, 32% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was geographic diversity — more than half (55%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (i.e., Canada, UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (25% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were black (African or African American).

To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 26% of authors in 2016 and 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that not quite a third (32%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were authors of color. So, once again, we vow to continue to search the shelves for a diversity of authors.

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And now some new reviews.

We begin February – Black History Month – by highlighting some great, new books by authors who identify as black.

FC9781250171085.jpgWhen They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018) – This memoir by one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement powerfully combines her personal experiences as a black woman in the USA with overarching social commentary about life for black Americans living in poverty. Her family’s story is incredibly moving and her prose makes all she has dealt with in her short life incredibly accessible. In the process, she also outlines the work, people, and dreams behind Black Lives Matter, a story greatly enhanced by her candor about her personal journey. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780871407535.jpgThe Annotated African American Folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates and Maria Tatar (2018) – Susan Voake of the Norwich Bookstore brought this to our attention with her recent review — “Hallelujah! Let’s begin 2018 with a landmark volume by two luminaries in their fields. Collections of African American folktales have been available, specifically for children, for the last thirty years. For the first time, they are collected and annotated by authorities in both African American culture and world folklore for the popular adult audience.” I agree this volume is worth reading, as well as owning, for years to come. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062359995.jpgAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016) – This novel was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2016, but somehow I only just read it last week. (Perhaps I was too busy reading her fabulous children’s books.) In this adult novel, August, the novel’s main character, and her closest girlfriends believe Brooklyn is a magical place where they feel beautiful and capable, and they know a bright future is theirs for the taking. It is also a place where men behave badly, mothers have difficulties coping, and madness often prevails. Told in sparse prose, Ms. Woodson provides insight into growing up a black girl in the USA, and city life in NYC. If you need further persuasion her work is worth reading, she has been recognized with the Coretta Scott King, Newberry Honor, and a Caldecott Honor awards, just to name a few. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781594206252.jpgFeel Free by Zadie Smith (2018) – Essays by one of my favorite writers are always a reason to celebrate. This new collection contains musings about social networks, joy, the Oscar-nominated movie “Get Out”, Rome, mourning, and Key and Peele. As always, this book contains her precise, beautiful, and thought-provoking prose. Enjoy! (Thank you to children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for letting us borrow your advance copy of this superb collection so we could include it today.) ~ Lisa Christie

And, we finish with some political cartooning.

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NOTE — this talk was postponed to February 16th due to icy weather.

This week we feature “3 Questions” with Cullen Murphy, author of Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-BelieveMr. Murphy is the editor-at-large at Vanity Fair and the former managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. (He is  also the brother of the The Long Haul author and truck driver Finn Murphy who visited The Norwich Bookstore last year.)

Cartoon County tells the story of Mr. Murphy’s father — John Cullen Murphy – the illustrator of the wildly popular comic strips Prince Valiant and Big Ben Bolt, and a man who had been trained by Norman Rockwell. Cartoon County focuses on a period of time in the last century when many of the the nation’s top cartoonists and magazine illustrators – including Mr. Murohy’s father – were neighbors in the southwestern corner of Connecticut. This book, through the lens of the author’s relationship with his father, brings the postwar American era and life in the arts alive.

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Mr. Murphy will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 17th. This Norwich Bookstore event offers an excellent opportunity to learn about this unique place and time in the 20th century. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of Cartoon County.

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

A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee. This was McPhee’s profile of Bill Bradley as a Princeton basketball player, and I read it in college. It made me aware of the possibilities of a certain kind of literary reporting. Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. A teacher gave me this nineteenth-century romp when I was in seventh grade in Ireland–there was a kind of high-end silliness about it that has offered a reminder ever since not to take yourself too seriously. Big Story, by Peter Braestrup. Peter was a mentor, and this book was his account of how the press reported the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. It was influential because the account offers many cautionary tales; because it demonstrated that a journalist could do scholarly work; and because I watched him research and write it even as he held a full-time job, showing how that was done.

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

Maybe William James. From what I can tell just from his writing–I’ve never read a biography, and should–he seems to have combined an omnidirectional mind and a genial disposition. And for someone who was at his peak around the turn of the last century, he comes across as someone whom you could bump into tomorrow and think you were meeting a contemporary. You would never think that about his novelist brother.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Munich, by Robert Harris. I’m a big Robert Harris fan, and would especially recommend his Rome trilogy, built around Cicero. (Also Pompeii–the opening scene is a classic.) Dinner at the Center of the Earth, by Nathan Englander. I’ve loved Englander’s work ever since reading the early stories of his that we published in The Atlantic. And Grant, by Ron Chernow. Anything by Chernow is worthwhile. Although Hamilton has gotten the most attention–for obvious reasons–I was captivated by his biographies of Rockefeller and Washington.

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing and the living of life, we’ve 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 or bookstore related venues. 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 both attend these special author events and read their books.

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