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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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The Oscars and Books

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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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Yes, we recognize it is practically February and the holidays are long past. However, due to other great blog topics, we only now get to our annual picks from our holiday reading.  So, with no further ado, two great books we read as 2015 passed into 2016.

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014, paperback 2015) – “What does it mean to be a sister, a friend, a woman, an outcast, a slave? How do we use our talents to better ourselves and our world?” These questions, posed by Bobbi Dumas of NPR in her review of The Invention of Wings, target the core themes addressed in Kidd’s absorbing novel.  The reader is introduced to Sarah Grimke, a real-life abolitionist born into a family of plantation owners in Charleston, South Carolina. Kidd brings this fascinating and history-changing individual to  life more than a century and a half after her death. (I found myself wondering how I hadn’t known of her previously.) Sarah, a radical and different thinker from an early age, is given “Handful,” a slave, as a present for her eleventh birthday and the story is launched from this pivotal moment. The story is told from both character’s perspectives, exploring a painful part of our nation’s history and transporting the reader to the bustling streets of Charleston and Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century.  This is precisely the kind of absorbing historical fiction that I long to find –and I hope that you do as well. ~ Lisa Cadow

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (2016) – Just when you thought authors had run out of ways to tell WWII tales, this sparse, lyrical, YA/older K-12 novel enters the world. This slim volume explores life as a refugee — a topic especially meaningful in light of today’s headlines from Syria — in Poland during WWII. The story begins when Anna’s father fails to return home from work, and she is forced to fend for herself after family friends refuse to help. Early in her meanderings, she is befriended by a mysterious man who remains nameless and “history-less” throughout the book. The pair proceeds to wander Poland, remaining ever-vigilant to stay one step ahead of both the Nazi and the Russian armies. They also manage to merge into an unusual team of friends and defenders. Throughout their tale, the author somehow makes walking in circles around Poland compelling and meaningful. Saying more would ruin this novel; but, if you need an overarching plot summary, this is a story about the meaning of truth, and what it means to be good and evil. Need a one sentence summary? This is a superb choice for fans of The Book Thief. ~ Lisa Christie

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This “3 Questions” features Jackson Wright Shultz author of Trans/Portraits: Voices from Transgendered Communities . Mr. Shultz has long been a mentor for youth with behavioral disorders and serves as the Education Director and an executive board member of the non-profit organization, TEACH Alliance. Originally from Washington State, Mr. Shultz recently completed his master’s degree at Dartmouth College and now teaches creative writing and composition at New England College, where he is working toward his doctorate in higher education administration.

Mr. Shultz will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 20th to discuss his latest book, Trans/Portraits: Voices from Transgendered Communities . In this work, Mr. Shultz gives voice to people who are often silenced as he records the stories of more than thirty Americans who identify as transgender. His subjects range in age from fifteen to seventy-two; come from twenty-five different states and a wide array of racial, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds; and identify across a vast spectrum of genders and sexualities.

The event with Mr. Shultz 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.

2) What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

My favorite genre is historical fiction and I love books that eschew conventional writing expectations, so Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is one of my favorite examples of creative prose. Another favorite is Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. Not only do I relate to Feinberg’s protagonist more intensely than any other character I have ever come across, but the writing is enviably beautiful in its frank vulnerability. On the flip-side, I think it’s crucial to avoid taking oneself too seriously, so David Sedaris’ hilarious Me Talk Pretty One Day is a work I’ve read repetitively over the years.

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

Both as a writer and as an activist, Janet Mock’s work is critical in the ongoing push for transgender rights. Her book, Redefining Realness, is a poignant autobiography of transition and transformation. I would dearly love to discuss the politics of gender liberation with her over a macchiato.

3) What books are currently on your bedside table?

The number of books I have in my to-read queue roughly equates to the size of the Library of Congress. As I pluck away at my doctoral dissertation (in education), I am currently reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The next in my line-up is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, about which I have heard nothing but praise. And, for a considerably lighter read, I await the opportunity to finish S. Bear Bergman’s Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter.

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Well, we bet you never thought you’d read a Book Jam post thanking a movie star, and honestly neither did we. But Mr. Hawke’s latest endeavor – a book entitled Rules for a Knight – has us leading 2016 with a sincere thank you to him.

Why gratitude? Well, reading this slim volume aloud to a ten-year-old boy and 12-year-old boy over the holiday break led to GREAT discussions about what sort of people they wish to become, and how they are going to get there. The discussions had nothing to do with what job they will hold, or where they will live, or academic grades. Instead, the conversations centered around what sort of people they wish to be, and included pondering questions such as: How do you show people you are grateful for their service? If you believe helping others is important, how do you serve others? How do you respond to life’s set-backs? How do you know who you are? Yes, much of the writing is a bit clumsy in its earnestness, and much of the advice is very yoda-like; but honestly, for us, any book that causes pre-teen boys to open up and discuss meaningful topics is worth reading.

These discussions inspired us to think about other books that might lead to amazing conversations about how to live (or just amazing conversations). Thus, we start 2016 with a review of Rules for a Knight, and a few other books that may lead to great discussions, and/or inspire your new year. You will see they are quite an eclectic mix as we weren’t certain what you might be in the mood to read or what inspiration you require. But each in its unique way, is helping us answer our ultimate question for 2016 – “How can I be useful?”. So, thank you Ethan Hawke for this gift of meaningful conversations with pre-teen boys about how to live a life (and for Before Sunrise and Dead Poets Society).

May 2016 be filled with fun books, good people, great discussions, some opportunities to learn a bit, and some fun adventures.

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Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (2015) – In this book, a knight, fearing he will not survive an upcoming battle, writes a letter to his children that he hopes will guide them as they face life’s choices. His themes include solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, and patience; and, he uses Eastern and Western philosophy, and modern spiritual and political themes throughout. What emerges is a short guide to what gives life meaning, and to what allows one to both create and appreciate beauty. As we said in the introduction, we found this a great read-aloud for discussions with youngsters. Note — while the kids we experienced this with were boys, Mr. Hawke incorporates girls into the prose, and we think this book would lead to fun conversations with kids, regardless of gender.

The Best Place to be Today: 365 Things To Do and The Perfect Day To Do Them by Lonely Planet (2015) – As regular readers of the Book Jam know, both Book Jam Lisas LOVE to travel. We also tend to rely on the Lonely Planet guides when we leave Vermont to explore the world. We love the concept behind this specific Lonely Planet book — each day of the year has a destination highlighted with information on what is there, and reasons why it is good to be enjoying that destination on that particular day. For example, this would be a great planning tool if you know you would like to go somewhere for Memorial Day, but need some inspiration about where it would be good to be on that specific weekend. We also think it would be fun to put on your dining room table and flip a page every day of the year for some great photos, some new knowledge, and some travel inspiration.

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay (2015) – Mr. Gay, a Wall Street Journal sports columnist, wrote a rule book that does not take itself too seriously. Best of all for us — it definitely does not make you feel guilty for all the things you are not doing (or doing as the case might be). What it does do is make you laugh (a lot – so much so that one of us completely distracted her husband with loud guffaws as he was trying hard to accomplish some work), and ponder the fact that maybe everything is not hard as you are making it. Read this as a powerful antidote to the daily news.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016 (2015) – Planning a big trip in 2016?  Well, this Lonely Planet volume will help guide you to your best destination. Along with vivid descriptions and ideas, this book provides: 1) a list of the top ten countries, regions, and cities to visit in 2016, 2) 16 top travel lists to give you fresh ideas for exploring the world from a new perspective, and 3) more than 35 events mapped out in a year long travel planner.

The Nordic Cook Book by Magnus Nilsson (2015) – We must admit we don’t normally think of Scandinavia when we think of what to make for dinner. So, we were intrigued when we came across this cookbook on the Norwich Bookstore’s shelves.  And, since we have vowed to expand our culinary horizons in 2016, we are glad we found this tome. We look forward to allowing it to inspire new dishes throughout the year. We will also enjoy thinking while we cook of the midnight sun, nordic myths, and fjords.

Paris by Serge Ramelli (2015) – We both love France, we both love Paris, and we both love this book of stunning images from the City of Light. Mr. Ramelli’s photos are truly spectacular, and a full book of Paris is lovely indeed. There is also something incredibly soothing about looking at a book of images, not words. Please pick this up and just enjoy some armchair travel in 2016.

And to finish this first post of 2016, one of us returns to her Southern roots by adding a quote from a fellow Tennessean. May 2016 be superb for all y’all!

TobyMac's photo.

 

 

 

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