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This week’s “3 Questions” features Lauren Groff,  bestselling author of the novels The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia and Fates and Furies, and the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds. Ms. Groff has won the PEN/O’Henry Prize, and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Ms. Groff’s most recent novel is Florida, of which the critics have said, “Storms, snakes, sinkholes, and secrets: In Lauren Groff’s Florida, the hot sun shines, but a wild darkness lurks. Florida is a “superlative” book” – Boston Globe, “gorgeously weird and limber”  – New Yorker,  and “brooding, inventive and often moving” – NPR Fresh Air. Ms. Groff lives with her family in Gainesville, Florida, but will be reading on July 19th (with Fairlee resident and author Christopher Wren) as part of The Meetinghouse Readings in Canaan. These readings are held at 7:30 p.m. on four Thursday evenings in July and early August, and are free and open to the public; no reservations needed. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com with questions and/or to secure your copies of Ms. Groff’s works.

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1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?
​Emily Dickinson’s Collected Poems taught me to love poetry and enigma. George Eliot’s Middlemarch ​is a book I reread every year to remind myself what wisdom and warmth look like in a novel. Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red taught me that writers should risk everything because the reward ​ can be so thrilling.

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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
​I’d love to have a cup of coffee with Virginia Woolf to try to understand the brain that could write a book so colossal and world-rearranging as To The Lighthouse.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
​I’m in a renovated barn in Orford, New Hampshire with so little furniture there’s no bedside table. But I’m doing a large project on the largely forgotten writer Nancy Hale and am reading all of her books right now. [Editor’s note: Ms. Hale’s books are unfortunately out of print so you wont find them at the Norwich Bookstore.]

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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This week’s heat in Vermont makes it a bit too warm to cook; thus, today we highlight books that are “sort of” about cooking. Maybe they will inspire you to cook. Maybe they will inspire you to sit and read, perhaps with a cool tomato salad and some watermelon as nourishment.  We also note that both provide a great break from the news cycle we seem to be caught in of shootings and political divisiveness. So, when your news feed is too hot to handle, and/or when the thought of cooking fries your brain, find a nice icy drink, sit in a comfy chair, and try these two titles.

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FC9780307718297.jpgComing to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters (2017). It is a sweet and savory pleasure to read this American culinary icon’s memoir. Learning about Alice Water’s mid-western childhood, a pivotal family move to California in her teens, and traveling with her in the late 60’s on a rather footloose and fancy-free trip through Europe sets the stage for the somewhat haphazard opening of Chez Panisse in the 1970’s. She’s a fascinating mash-up: her creative, free-spirited side reminds one a bit of Patti Smith, but her culinary vision is more of a Julia Child (minus the formal training). Her story offers a fascinating window into the vibrant art and political scene in San Francisco “back in the day.” It also serves to remind us that the making of an influential and  important institution, in this case Chez Panisse, does not necessarily start out with a big budget or perfection on opening night — but rather with passion, intuition, and a deep desire to learn. I was struck again and again by how delicious food need not be fancy, but instead sourced with attention to the land and farmers. Several Alice Water’s fans lamented the fact that there isn’t a great deal of new information about her in this book, but for this reader who is somewhat new to her fan club, it opened the door on a good view into to her kitchen, her life, and influences. I appreciate the inspiration it offered, too: as soon as I turned the last page, I pulled out my copy of The Art of Simple Food and with her voice as a guide, whipped up a delectable aioli (with local Vermont eggs, of course) to serve alongside some gently steamed artichokes. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781451674200.jpgComfort Food Diaries: My quest for the perfect dish to mend a broken heart by Emily Nunn (2017) – Part cook book, part memoir, part recipe for regaining one’s equilibrium, this book by former New Yorker editor Emily Nunn, won some diverse recognition: NPR’s Best Books of 2017, Best Books on Food of 2017, The Guardian, Best Food-Focused Memoirs, Eater, Top 10 Narrative Food & Drink Books, Booklist, 20 Best Cookbooks, The Telegraph. And while I saw these reviews and was intrigued, it was not until a former roommate (who went to college with Ms. Nunn) put this in my hands that I managed to read this tale. In it, Ms. Nunn describes how during one life-changing, alcohol-enhanced night, she takes to Facebook for help with managing her brother’s death, a devastating breakup with her fiance, and her subsequent eviction from the home that they shared.  The next morning, she discovers many of her friends want to help and offer their couches, guest rooms, and kitchens to her to use while she puts her life back together. Thus, her “Comfort Food Tour” begins. Luckily for us readers, she chronicled her journey across America searching for what food comforts others in the hopes one of these dishes will unlock something for herself. Ms. Nunn manages to make her descent into the depths of personal angst and depression funny, insightful, and delicious – with recipes sprinkled throughout. As the indie-booksellers state in their review, Ms. Nunn “delivers a moving account of her descent into darkness and her gradual, hard-won return to the living”. I am glad my friend sent this to me. I hope you will be glad this found its way to you as well. ~ Lisa Christie

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Summer is finally here — the bugs, the heat and humidity, and even the news, all call for mysteries where the problem at hand is successfully solved, leaving the reader with hopes for the next story of that detective’s travails.

 

FC9780544292666.jpgNorwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller (2013) – Every once in a while, an author tells a story in a way that makes the reader feel as if they have stumbled on something fresh and new. This is one such story. We quickly meet 82-year old Saul, a veteran of the Korean war, who has moved from a life in New York City to live out the rest of his years in Oslo with his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband. He very quickly witnesses a crime that leads him to go on the lam in order to shelter an eight year old boy who he names Paul. This book is about so much: identity, aging, Judaism, PTSD, American politics, Norwegian politics, organized crime in Europe.  I fell quickly in love with the characters in this book – especially Saul, Paul, and Norwegian detective Sigrid Odegard – and missed them after turning the last page. I don’t know how we missed this intelligent, poignant and funny mystery when it was first published in 2013 (luckily we learned about it by word of mouth), but we’re on the case now and have already moved on to read Derek Miller’s other excellent mysteries (see next review).  Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781328876652.jpgAmerican by Day by Derek B. Miller  (2018) – See above for our rave review of the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night. Detective Sigrid Odegard is back in this literary mystery by Derek Miller, who this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus,  a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. Though I haven’t yet finished it, I can share that so far it is as entertaining and intelligent as Norwegian by Night. It offers a fascinating  Norwegian perspective on “strange” America – our foods, our neighborhoods, our quirks and Sigrid’s impression of life in upstate New York. We also meet another quirky character, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book. American by Day is a Summer 2018 must-read for mystery lovers. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780143133124.jpgThe Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (2018) – Besides introducing me to a new favorite name – Dervla, Ms. McTiernan’s debut novel introduces a great new detective series. Her main detective, Cormac Reilly, possesses an unexplained complicated past, the requisite desire for justice, and great assistance from another well-wrought detective Carrie O’Halloran and a new newbie to the Garda – Peter Fisher. The setting in Galway is part of the action and allows you to vicariously travel to some very soggy time in the Irish countryside. I look forward to the next book in this series. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316206853.jpgAnd finally, if you haven’t yet tried them, now is the time to try the Robert Galbraith detective series as the miniseries they inspired on the BBC is coming Stateside. The series is set in the UK with an Iraq War vet – Coroman Strike – as the troubled, but inspired detective who tries his best to stay solvent and sane. ~ Lisa Christie

Enjoy, and welcome to the heat of summer!

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A major part of this blog’s mission is to put the right book in the right hands at the right time. This is powerful stuff – and no easy task. This can mean helping a book group to find a thought-provoking read for their next month’s gathering (Best Books for Book Groups). It can also be about helping people at holiday time to select the perfect book to give as a gift (Pages in the Pub). Recently, however, we have begun moving deeper into the community to connect people with the pages that might right for them. “BOOK BUZZ” is a successful initiative we now run regularly in local schools that has kids “talking books” with their peers, while simultaneously raising money for their libraries. Most recently of all, in fall 2017, we launched an effort to help bring book discussions to our town library that focus on medical issues. This is what we call “Novel Medicine.”

So why “Novel Medicine”? Try to think about it this way: “medicine” and “healing” are things that can happen both in and outside of an exam room or a hospital. In creating this series, we wanted to further explore the powerful learning and behavior change that can happen outside of a formal medical space when someone reads a book and talks about it – be it a novel, a memoir, or a collection of poems. This group is intended to put the right book in the right hands at the right time in a slightly different way: it aims to more pointedly explore the intersection between reading and dialogue, and health and wellness.

Discussions have to this point been moderated by Book Jam blogger Lisa Low Cadow, who is by night an avid reader and by day a health coach at Dartmouth Health Connect, a primary care clinic in Hanover, New Hampshire. (And, they have recently been hosted by the Norwich Public Library.) Her interest in this idea grew out of the thousands of hours she has spent in exam rooms with patients as well as in her role as facilitator in a Women’s Health and Wellness Group which over the past five years has read over ten books together. During this time, she has noticed the transformative effect that books, especially novels, can have on self-understanding and healing.

So far on our “Novel Medicine” journey we’ve read two graphic novels and a memoir, all of which are reviewed below. Each of these three works are excellent and inspired rich and robust conversations. For the two graphic novels we chose, we took advantage of a free program being offered by the National Library of Medicine (NILM) called “Graphic Medicine” which lends complete kits to groups or individuals interested in running this kind of discussion. Each kit includes six books, a discussion guide, as well as clinical information about the medical conditions being discussed. (For more information on the International 2018 Graphic Medicine Conference that is being held this August at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, just downstream from us, click on the following link: https://www.graphicmedicine.org/2018-vermont-conference/.)

We’d love to know your thoughts about this initiative and any books that readers might suggest that we might consider next.

FC9780452295544.jpgMy Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor (2009) You may have already seen the powerful  TED talk given by author Jill Bolte Taylor. It is one of the most viewed videos in their collection because her experience of having a stroke at aged 38 was a powerful one  — and the way she communicates about her learning is extremely moving. Taylor’s book has an equally profound effect on readers. Up until she had her stroke, Taylor was a Harvard trained neuroscientist at the peak of her career. She was both teaching about and continuing to study the brain. Then one morning, out of the blue, she experienced a stroke on the left side of her brain which profoundly impacted not only the rest of her life but also her understanding of the human experience, spirituality, and of how healing traumatic brain injuries needs to be approached. A must read for: all who have a brain(!) — but also for those who may have experienced a concussion and want to learn more about how the mind works and how to better heal it.  ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781592407323.jpgMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney (2012).  In this brave, candid, and brilliantly illustrated memoir about her bipolar disease, Forney takes readers on the roller coaster ride of her experience from her early twenties before her formal diagnosis, through the waves of her initial manic episodes (that include uber creativity as well as hyper-sexuality; reader beware), down to the depths of her depression, and through the difficult slog of figuring out how to effectively prescribe (and take) her medications.  This memoir is brutally honest – Forney doesn’t shy away from things that are raw and even potentially embarrassing. It is such an essential read for those trying to better understand what bipolar really means, what it is like to live with it, what the support of love ones can mean when challenged with behavioral health issues, and how management IS possible. Don’t underestimate the power that drawings can have on conveying a storyline and accompanying emotion! This was one of the most powerful books I read in 2017 and one that I have now recommended to numerous patients and friends. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780375423185.jpgEpileptic by David B. (2006) – What is the experience of someone who grows up with a sibling who develops epilepsy at age 11? How does it affect family dynamics? How does it affect siblings who are trying to grow up and become independent during this time? How do friends, family, and the kids on your street treat you? What effect do multiple seizures and strong medications have on a human body? So many questions – and this book offers David B.’s experience and personal answers. This fascinating work was immensely popular in France (as it was originally written and published there in the late 1990’s) and has now been translated into multiple languages. It is intimate and takes the reader into a very personal place and space in the Beauchard family, through their family tree, and then into the adult life of David B. in Paris as a student and then as an aspiring cartoonist. His art is affecting and is heavily influenced by his fascination with mythic creatures and battles, heroes and monsters. One of the most memorable aspects of his work are the three “beasty” best friends, imaginary beings who shadow him through his childhood and help support him through his brother’s illness. Also fascinating is how David B. represents the changing and aging of his brother, sister, and parents. Particularly recommended for those who have acted as caretaker or caregiver during a loved one’s chronic illness.   ~Lisa Cadow

Stay tuned for more on this new Book Jam program; and in the meantime, enjoy these great books.

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This week’s “3 Questions” features Christopher Wren, author of  many books and articles including his latest history — Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution.

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Mr. Wren retired from The New York Times after nearly twenty-nine years as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor. He headed the Times‘ news bureaus in Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, Ottawa, and Johannesburg; covered the United Nations; and reported from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and Canada. He is a visiting professor in Dartmouth’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. He currently lives in Vermont with his wife.

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Mr. Wren will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, May 30th. 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 Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution.

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

It was actually 40 years as a journalist on deadline that shaped me as a writer. I also read authors in the countries where I worked, like Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, and J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace. Bedtime reads like Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and everything by John Cheever, plus lots of poetry from Alfred Tennyson to W.B. Yeats, Alan Seeger and Billy Collins.

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

I’d prefer to have tea with Jane Austen to discuss my favorite, Persuasion. Or the Spanish war correspondent-turned-novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte, who wrote Queen of the South, about international drug trafficking, which I covered as a journalist.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Books on my bedside table include Arturo Perez-Reverte‘s novel The Painter of Battles, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, and Enduring Vietnam by James Wright, the best book I’ve read about Vietnam vets.

As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, 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. 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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So, Meghan Markle of the USA marries Prince Harry of the UK in six days. When Kate Middleton married Prince William, The Book Jam published a post reviewing books about princesses. For these royal nuptials, we thought we would highlight books that might help Ms. Markle as she assumes her new duties in the UK, figures out life in a new country, and orients to her new role.

FC9780380727506.jpgNotes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson (1998) – And sometimes as you adjust to new circumstances,  you just need humor and a good travel guide. Like Ms. Markle, Mr. Bryson also married a Brit and found his life forever changed. This book chronicles his final trip around Great Britain, which had been his home for over twenty years, before returning to the USA. We believe Ms. Markle might find it helpful as she adjust to life in the UK. And, we believe that Mr. Bryson’s humor is always welcome, even if she finds his perspective on the UK or being married to a Brit different from her own experiences. She could also read his In A Sunburned Country as prep for her first official trip Down Under as a Royal. And, we will close by saying again that Mr. Bryson knows how to make you laugh.

FC9781101911761.jpgWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) – Ms. Markle is a self-proclaimed feminist. This gorgeous, concise long-essay-of-a-book might help her to articulate why as she travels the UK in her new role.  We envision her handing these books out like candy as she performs her new duties. Previously reviewed by us on our post entitled Beyond the Marches.

FC9781612370293.jpgLet’s Go London: Oxford and Cambridge (2013) by Harvard Student Agencies (2013) – Assuming she can ditch her security detail, this guide could help Ms. Markle find London’s top spots for those traveling on a restricted budget. Though we realize she has almost unlimited resources, if she wishes to remain in touch with the non-royals who inhabit this planet, we recommend this guide as a great way to find young travellers on limited budgets from all around the world. As another online review states — “Let’s Go Budget London is a budget traveler’s ticket to getting the most out of a trip to London—without breaking the bank… This slim, easy-to-carry guide is packed with dollar-saving information to help you make every penny count.” There is also one for Europe to help her escape on her on foreign trips. Either of these books would make great graduation gifts for those students lucky enough to have time and some money to travel.

FC9780143113553.jpgFC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) – or Strawberry Fields  (published as Two Caravans in the UK) by Marina Lewycka (2007) – Both these novels provide excellent ways to understand refugees – a cause that may benefit from some Royal Attention. Strawberry Fields/Two Caravans takes place in the English Countryside; so, it could count as a travel guide as well. These books were previously reviewed by us on Refugees, Immigrants, Syria, and Other Thoughts and Our 2016 Summer Reading List.

FC9781501166761.jpgAsymmetry by Lisa Halliday (2018) — We recommend Ms. Markle (and you) read Asymmetry. Why? well because, sometimes as you adjust to new circumstances you just need a good book. This first published novel by Ms. Halliday is just that – a quiet novel, written with gorgeous prose about interesting and distinct characters living their lives in New York, London, Iraq and elsewhere. Asymmetry explores the power of fiction – with excerpts from some of your favorite novels cleverly placed throughout. It also explores what happens in situations of inequity – a twenty-something in love with an older, well-established, and famous novelist (based upon the author’s actual life we gave heard), and an American man detained by immigration in London. The final section offers humor and some closure. While we honestly felt like Asymmetry was actually three loosely related but intelligently written short stories, instead of a coherent novel, this novel has us thinking about it days later which is never a bad thing. Don’t take our word for it though, The New York Times also gave it a lovely review. (The Times reviewer also said she read it three times, so maybe if we did the same coherence would grow apparent.)

FC9780811855518.jpgPorn for Women by The Cambridge Women’s Pornography Cooperative (2007) – It might be worth having a copy or two of this picture book hanging about Kensington Palace for her prince and her to review as they launch into married life. Previously reviewed by the Book Jam on Mother’s Day: Porn (men with vacuums) and Practical.

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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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