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Posts Tagged ‘David Sedaris’

Books for summer camping: Adult fiction and nonfiction

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Some people might say that we’ve now entered the “dog days of August” but here at the Book Jam we like to call this time of year the “dog-eared book days of August”. It is the season when we finally get to the books in our pile that have been beckoning, lazing with them by the lake for long periods of time, folding over pages to remind us where to return  (hence the dog ears) only when it is time for a short break from the prose.

August is when we look forward to pulling out or back packs and beach bags and filling them full of books (and maybe a clean change of clothes, too) and heading with them to the shore of some quiet sunny river to get lost in the stories and ideas that lie between the pages.

Below are 28 ideas for what you might want to put in your backpack and head to the hills with to lose yourself in after a day of hiking. Remember, the faster you set up your tent, the faster you can open up those dog-eared and well loved books.

Happy reading!

 

Books Inspired by Ancient Greeks or Shakespeare and even Henry James (Because this seems to be a trend in our reading, and continues as MacBeth by Jo Nesbo is on our bedside table for August.)

FC9780316556347.jpgCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – This saga covers the origin, life and final decisions of Circe, the original Greek witch.  Sprinkled throughout with men, women and gods from Greek Mythology, I found myself spell bound by what would happen next – even though I technically knew. And because Circe manages to succeed alone, banished to an island, she draws the wrath of gods, slightly reminiscent of some women today. In the end this is a gripping tale centered around a dysfunctional family of rivals, love and loss, punishment, and a tribute to a strong woman living in a predominantly man’s world. (Also on the April 2018 Indie Next List.) 

FC9780525431947.jpgNutshell: A Novel by Ian McEwan (2016) — Ok the tale of Hamlet reworked for Modern Day London and told form the perspective of an unborn child?  Yes, sounds too precious, but Mr. McEwan pulls it off. It truly is more brilliant than this quick summary shows it should be.  Perhaps because the narrator allows Mr. McEwan to ponder modern problems and pleasures without seeming to lecture.  Perhaps it is because of Mr. McEwan’s lovely prose.  Whatever the reason, I highly recommend this one, while admitting a bias for Mr. McEwan’s work. (A New York Times and Washington Post notable book and previously reviewed by us a few times.)

FC9780449006979.jpgGertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it.  And if you don’t believe us, try the New York Times Book review “Updike has used Shakespeare to write a free-standing, pleasurable, and wonderfully dexterous novel about three figures in complex interplay.”  

FC9780451493422.jpgMrs. Osmond by John Banville (2017) – I am a huge fan of Mr. Banvile’s The Sea, which I often describe as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  I also enjoy his mysteries under his pen name Benjamin Black. I also loved reading The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James in my early 20s just after completing my own stint in Europe. Granted I was backpacking and sleeping in tents while Isabel Archer was being wined and dined for her fortune, but I still related somehow. Thus, I picked up Mr. Galbraith’s treatise of what happens to Isabel once The Portrait of A Lady ends, with high expectations for a great story. These were met. Somehow Mr. Banville manages to capture and use Mr. James’s prose style, wry humor, and social commentary while making this sequel his own.Mrs. Osmond explores what happens when the people we love aren’t who they seemed to be, how sudden wealth changes everything, what living abroad as an American can mean, and family. As The Guardian summed, “Banville is one of the best novelists in English. . . . Mrs Osmond is both a remarkable novel in its own right and a superb pastiche.”

FC9781770413993.jpgRose and Poe by Jack Todd (2017) – I am always going to read anyone who attempts to retell The Tempest, and Mr. Todd did not disappoint. In this tale, Mr. Todd re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest from the point of view of Caliban (Poe) and his mother (Rose). Rose and Poe live in the woods quietly along side Prosper Thorne, a banished big city lawyer and his gorgeous daughter Miranda. When Poe appears carrying Miranda’s bruised and bloody body, he is arrested, despite lack of evidence he committed the crime; and Rose and Poe find themselves facing bitter hatred and threats from neighbors who once were friends. A timeless tale of how we stigmatize what frightens us, and the consequences of our prejudices.  

FC9781501140228.jpgHouse of Names by Colm Toibin (2017) – In this measured retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and her children, Mr. Toibin creates a sympathetic character as he reveals the tragic saga that led to her bloody actions (killing her husband). Told in four parts, Mr. Toibin portrays a murderess, her son Orestes, and the vengeful Electra, all the while playing with who deserves sympathy in the end. (Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR.)

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Historical fiction

FC9780812985405.jpgLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017) – A fascinating look at Lincoln after his beloved son Willie dies and the USA is burning down all around him due to the Civil War.  Told in a completely uniquely gorgeous style and premise – actual historical documents describing this time and the souls of the dead interred with Willie give voice and color to the narrative. Challenging to read; fascinating to think about. (Winner of the Man Booker Prize, and an IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780062563705.jpgHalf-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker (2017) Ragnvald and Svanhild, the brother and sister duo at the heart of this novel, lead the way through an adventurous re-telling of Norway’s medieval history. For those of you looking for a saga that highlights how personalities and desires influence everything, and that uses actual historical characters and battles, Ms. Hartsuyker’s work may be the perfect summer read for you. (August 2017 IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780385542364-1.jpgThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) – I am late to the party over this National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But, this tale of Cora and her life as a slave will capture your imagination and give you many reason to pause and think about race relations today. Please pick it up if you have not already. (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.) 

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General Fiction

FC9780316316132-1.jpgLess by Andrew Sean Green (2017) – This look at mid-life and lost loves is loaded with superb prose and insight.  Mr. Less makes a lovely main character to rout for, his life reflections are populated by interesting characters, and his travels abroad reminiscent of something Twain once wrote. I must admit it was not as funny for me as had been hyped, but I still liked it. Enjoy! (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, New York Times Notable Book, Top Ten pick for the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.) 

FC9781616205041.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. (September 2017 IndieNext book.)  

FC9781944700553.jpgMem by Bethany C Morrow (2018) – What happens when you can choose to eliminate horrific memories? Where do they go? What happens to your life afterwards?  Ms. Morrow gives her answers to these questions in this slim look at life in 1920s Montreal. And, since Brenna Bellavance the newest bookseller at the Norwich Bookstore brought this to my attention, I will use her review and say ditto to the haunting aspect. “Elsie is not a real person. From the moment she came to exist, she has been told this repeatedly. She is merely the physical embodiment of an unwanted memory extracted from another woman, a real woman, whose face she sees every time she looks in a mirror. Except that she remembers a life she didn’t live, loves people she never met, thinks her own thoughts, and feels her own feelings. So what makes a real person….real? Exquisite and haunting, Mem has stayed with me.” (June 2018 IndieNext Book.)  

FC9780679734772.jpgThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – I LOVED this once again as I read it to discuss with my 9th grader who was forced to read it for his English teacher. Bonus — he, a very reluctant reader, loved it too :)! (Thanks you Ms. Eberhardt.) The trials and tribulations of the narrator as she navigates her life in NYC are deliciously unraveled by Ms. Cisneros sparse prose. Or as the New York Times reviewed ““Cisneros draws on her rich [Latino] heritage . . . and seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page. She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one.”  

FC9780385349406Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand, and currently, all over the globe, the weather is setting records for heat and discomfort. Apparently in 1976, London suffered more heat than most. So, we added a book we reviewed in 2013 to today’s post in honor of heat waves everywhere. That 1976 British heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book about an Irish Catholic clan living in London.  The chain of events unfurls once the father of three grown children disappears, causing all the grown children to rally around their mother.  And well, his disappearance leads to a secret which when unveiled leads to a series of events that rapidly take over everything in the hot, hot heat of this long ago summer.  Enjoy!  

FC9780812996067.jpgAlternate Side by Anna Quindlen (2018) – I start this review with the confession that I miss Ms. Quindlen’s New York Times and Newsweek columns. Her insight, humor, precise prose, and hope amidst the chaos and difficulties she wrote of were a staple of my life for many years. These characteristics are evident in this summer beach read of a novel.  Nora has a great job, twins in college, a kind husband, and the perfect house on the best block in New York City – a dead end filled with people who get along. Then an incident occurs and unravels pretty much everything. Alternate Side offers a lovingly portrayed look at life in middle age with kids in college, jobs not quite what you dreamed of when you were 20, and of New York City itself.  A great beach read for anyone – especially anyone who truly loves NYC. As the New York Times stated, “Exquisitely rendered . . . [Quindlen] is one of our most astute chroniclers of modern life. . . . [Alternate Side] has an almost documentary feel, a verisimilitude that’s awfully hard to achieve.”

FC9780062484154.jpgWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) – I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly 

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – I LOVED this novel.  It is concise, gorgeously written, and covers important topics – love, immigration, war.  Perfect. (Winner 2018 Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, Ten Best Book of 2017 for the New York Times.)  

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Mysteries and thrillers and other beach reads

FC9780804114905.jpgLast Bus to Woodstock by Collin Dexter (1975) – I have been a fan of the BBC’s Inspector Lewis, Morse, and Endeavor series for years.  This is the first time I read those series’ primary source materials.  I am so glad I finally did. This was well-plotted intelligently written and fun to read.  I especially enjoyed vicariously visiting Oxford sites I have been privileged to stroll. Pick this series up (this title is first in the series), read, and perhaps then plan a trip to the UK – or watch the series. Thank you Danielle Cohen, an amazing audio-book narrator and actor, for reminding me that the books behind the BBC are great as well. Publishers Weekly agrees, “A masterful crime writer whom few others match.”

FC9780143133124.jpgThe Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (2018) – Besides having my new favorite name – Dervla, Ms. McTiernan’s debut novel introduces a great new detective series. Her main detective Cormac Reilly has a 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 wet time in the Irish countryside. (Also a July 2018 IndieNext pick.)   

FC9780061655517.jpgNemesis (and other titles) by Jo Nesbo (2002) – Somehow I missed this instalment in the Harry Hole series.  Another page-turner for mystery fans. As the nomination for the Edgar Nominee for Best Novel of the Year states — “The second Harry Hole novel to be released in America–following the critically acclaimed publication of The RedbirdNemesis is a superb and surprising nail-biter that places Jo Nesbo in the company of Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and other top masters of crime fiction. Nesbo has already received the Glass Key Award and the Booksellers’ Prize, Norway’s most prestigious literary awards. Nemesis is proof that there are certainly more honors in this extraordinary writer’s future”.  

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (2017) – I so want to believe there is someone like August Snow – a half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit weaves throughout the narrative and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, he makes mistakes, and wow his body count is way too high for my tastes by the end, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit, enjoy this one! (Also a Winner of the Hammett Prize, and annual award for best mystery by the International Association of Crime Writers.)  

FC9781508238607.jpgPoison by John Lescroart (2018) – I love Mr. Lescroart’s Dimas Hardy Series for the chance to relive life in San Francisco and the great cast of characters Mr. Hardy uses to always ensure justice is served.  This latest instalment continues this love affair. These are my reliable guilty pleasure.  

 

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Nonfiction

FC9780316392389.jpgCalypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor.  I will frame his paragraph in “Leviathan” beginning “It’s ridiculous how often you have to say hello on Emerald Island” for its treatise on the fact Southerners insist on saying hello. I will then present it to my children as a constant explanation for why I say hello to complete strangers; they may never understand this trait, but they will forever have documentation of its source – my childhood in Tennessee. Pick this up and enjoy! (We suppose we should have put this in the inspired by Ancient Greeks category.) 

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. (Previously reviewed in mother’s day picks.)

FC9780143125471-1.jpgThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – Not sure why I never got around to reading this, but I am so glad I finally did. What a terrific tale of triumphing – ultimately over Hitler, but also over horrendous parents, poverty and low expectations.  

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own life. (Named on the best books of the year by NPR, New York Times, Esquire, Booklist.) 

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from 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. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” (The author was the recipient of the 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.)   

FC9781608197651.jpgMen We Reaped by Jessmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America. Ms. Ward’s starting point is a two year period of time shortly after she graduated college during which five boys who she loved and grew up along the Mississippi Coast with experience 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 10 young black men are in jail and murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of 24. And while the material is brutal, 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 hope to see it on a big screen near you soon. (On the October 2013 IndieNext list.) 

And, One final note — this post is our last for a while as it is is time for our annual “Gone Readin’ hiatus”. We look forward to bringing you great reviews of superb books at some point in late September.

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This “3 Questions” features Jackson Wright Shultz author of Trans/Portraits: Voices from Transgender 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 TransgenderCommunities . 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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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.

Susan Conley, Author - Portland, ME

Today’s post features Susan Conley, author of Paris Was the Place, an Indie Next Pick, and an Elle Magazine Readers Prize Pick.  An American novelist, nonfiction writer, poet and creative writing professor, Ms. Conley’s memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune, was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine and the Daily Beast. Ms. Conley has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Breadloaf Writers Conference, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. She currently teaches at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program, and at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Susan is co-founder of The Telling Room, a nonprofit creative writing lab in Portland, Maine.

Ms. Conley speaks at the Norwich Bookstore next week on Wednesday, September 18th at 7 pm.  Reservations are recommended, please call 802-649-1114 or e-mail info@norwichbookstore.com for more information or to make a reservation.

While we have not yet read her book, we enjoyed her answers to our questions below.  We especially like her eclectic list of books on her bedside table as it includes many of our favorite authors such as Jane Gardam, Halldor Laxness and David Sedaris.  We also truly hope she manages to finish Independent People by Laxness; we both loved that novel!

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

 Joan Didion’s The White Album taught me that women could write about the same things that men could:  rock and roll and politics and driving cars on the Santa Monica freeway. But that women could do something perhaps more interesting–they could layer on to that social inquiry a more internal, emotive investigation of what it means to be a mother or a sister or a daughter or a wife. Didion opened up the world of complex, nuanced, startling intimate creative non-fiction to me. Her novels are also lessons in compression and distillation and I have devoured all of those too.
Tolstoy’s War and Peace taught me about breadth and scope and the infinite possibilities of how to write about family. You may be able to tell I preferred the domestic chapters to the war chapters, but those battle scenes and schemes were extremely educational too. This book showed me how to write about the intricacies of place and how to use place as a full-blown character in my work–a portal into the story. This book is also so generous with its treatment of scenes. Tolstoy stays in the scenes for a long, long time. Much longer, in fact, than you think it’s possible to.  And this is how he is able to fully render his character, until they come completely alive on the page and work their way into our hearts.
 Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is on the list because this was the book that showed me how novels can spend all their time tracing their character’s shifting internal thoughts. Not much happens in this beautiful novel. It’s mostly the mapping of each character’s fluid, discursive inner thinking. Woolf showed me that it is rare that two characters in a novel (or in the world for that matter) are actually speaking to one another–actually exchanging ideas. And that most often they are pushing some kind of unseen and often unconscious agenda in their mind without even knowing it. Often they are lost in their own dreams and their own questions and musings. Then every so often, two people connect, as they do in quiet, powerful moments in To the Lighthouse and there’s great pathos and emotion.
2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
Probably the esteemed Virginia Woolf. Because of her prolific career–so many novels and essays and letters and journals. But also because of her layered, complicated life and the crowd she hung out with. Her perch in the famed Bloomsbury art world in England and her famous sister Vanessa would make talking to Virginia even more fascinating. That is, if I could get her to talk. I have a feeling she would be rather circumspect and want to drink her coffee (or tea rather) and then go home.
     
3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
I will simply look at the pile, right next to the bed, and list them for you. There are always many and they all call to me:  Richard Russo’s Elsewhere, Colum McCann’s Dancer, Pers Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time, Jane Gardam’s The Man in the Wooden Hat.  Halldor Laxness’ Independent People. David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. (Sedaris is always on my bedside table. He keeps me honest and keeps me taking risks.)

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Buckle your seat belts and put on your sunblock because here we go, our last post before we take August off to “go reading”.  In it, we share books we hope you take with you on your end-of-summer adventures.  We’ve tried to find something for every literary mood you might have — fiction, memoir, thrillers, and yes, even, mind-candy reads. Have a great time wherever these books may take you. We look forward to being with you again in mid-September.

Fantastic Fiction

FC9780316126489Wise Men by Stuart Nadler (2013)- Bluepoint, Cape Cod, 1952. This is exactly where I wanted to go when I picked up this newly published novel by talented writer Stuart Nadler. Having grown up in coastal Massachusetts, during the summer months I now crave stories set by the seashore, especially in New England.  Along with delivering the sun and the sand, this book offers so much more: insight into race, class, and identity.  Teenaged Hilly finds himself spending the summer at his new ocean-front home after his lawyer father catapults to sudden fame and fortune upon winning a class action lawsuit against the airline industry.  He befriends the caretaker on the property and his niece, both of whom are black, and the conflict ensues as Hilly falls for lovely Savannah.  The fallout from their relationship effects both families and years later, Hilly still bears the scars. In the second part of the book he attempts to find his young love and make amends.  The prose in this debut novel is reminiscent of Hemingway, crisp and clear, evocative.  Make sure to stick with narrator Hilly, elderly by the end, as all shall become clear in Wise Men‘s final, brilliant pages. ~Lisa Cadow

 Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma  (2013) –  I seem to be reading many books set in Africa of late and I am glad, as this trend led me to this novel.  Unchangeable begins with  “I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written.”  The “I” is the book’s narrator, a writer, whose literary attempts began early in life.  At age eight, in an airport terminal where he spent a lot of time hanging out with various airport vendors waiting for his airline “hostess” mother to return from flights, he wrote and promptly lost his first novel.  He then proceeds to lose three other books: “a novel, a novella, and a biography,” in a variety of creative places – in a black lake, with a woman he has loved and lost, and in an African landfill.   All three lost novels are his fictional accounts of true events involving the narrator, his friend Julian, a much more successful author, and Eve, the elusive actress the narrator loves.  And in this novel, the “truth” of the narrative is truly stranger than the fiction.  But, what actually is truth?  Ultimately, that is the question the narrator confronts and examines in this intriguing novel by a strong “new-to-me” author – Mr. Jansma.  I look forward to his next book. ~ Lisa Christie

Benediction by Kent Haruf (March 2013) – With the quietness of his novels,  Mr. Haruf tricks the reader into thinking nothing at all is happening.  Then somewhere along the way you realize so much is going on.  In Benediction — a man has mere weeks to live as his cancer advances, a daughter comes home to help him die, a son disappears, a girl comes to live with her grandma after a tragedy, a middle-aged woman lives with the choices her love life has offered and much more unfolds.  Yes, all of this action happens while you as the reader are thinking “hmm where is the action of this plot?”.  Through it all, you will enjoy the well-picked prose and your time in Mr. Haruf’s Holt, Colorado. ~ Lisa Christie

 FC9781594486401The Yonhalosee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclanfani (June 2013) DiSclafani doesn’t miss a hoofbeat as she lands the reader at an all girls riding school in North Carolina in 1930. The atmosphere she creates is magical and lush, moving between the orange groves of old Florida where the narrator Theodora grew up and the oak-hickory filled Blue Ridge Mountains. This is a coming of age novel mixed with suspense and mystery as we don’t know quite what fifteen year-old Theodora has done to land herself in this privileged exile — or how she will get herself home. While I didn’t always like or identify with Theodora or her choices, I appreciated this book and the author’s excellent writing, the characters we meet, and considering the dilemmas they faced . Yonhalosee would make a good choice for a reading group as it puts forth plenty to discuss about race, class, family, and sexual morays.  ~Lisa Cadow

 Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – We both have only just started this novel, but it is so full of insight and ideas that we feel the need to share it on our summer reading post.  It starts out with whip-smart Ifemilu who’s studying in Princeton, New Jersey then setting off for the less posh Trenton in the summer heat to get her hair braided.  Insights on race in America and the African experience here abound, and we’re only a few pages in.  Thus far in our reading we agree, it would be a great big satisfying novel to sink your teeth into as summer days wind down.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

“Beach” Reads/Mind Candy/Humorous Fiction

 FC9780547576213The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman (April 2013). There are two authors I “follow,” eagerly awaiting their next books. Eleanor Lipman is one  of them(and Geraldine Brooks is the other). Reading Lipman’s books evokes the same feelings as watching a satisfying Nora Ephron film. The View from Penthouse B is a fun and farcical story about a motley crew of characters: a recently widowed writer mourning the loss of her husband and trying to get up the nerve to seek male companionship, an unemployed financial analyst who loves making cupcakes and enjoys his single, gay lifestyle in the city, and the owner of the apartment who is still reeling from her ex-husband’s betrayal and losing all of her savings to Bernie Madoff. As always, Lipman’s dialogue is witty and engaging and the reader finds herself rooting for these apartment mates to find love and belonging by book’s end.  ~Lisa Cadow (And Lisa Christie, another Lipman fan is looking forward to this one in August.)

 FC9780385349406Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand.  And apparently in 1976, London suffered more than most. (Although, as I write this, it is hard to imagine feeling more heat in Vermont.)  That 1976 heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book about an Irish Catholic clan living in London.  The chain of events unfurls once the father of three grown children disappears, causing all the grown children to rally around their mother.  And well, his disappearance leads to a secret which when unveiled leads to a series of events that rapidly take over everything in the hot, hot heat of this long ago summer.  Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780399162169A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (May 2013) — If you feel  like you need a little mind candy at the beach, don’t pass over A Hundred Summers. This is another novel set on the New England seashore, this time in exclusive Seaview, Rhode Island during the summer of 1938. The country has passed through the Great Depression, is on the cusp of World War II and the great hurricane of 1938 is poised to come hurtling up the coast. It is an evocative setting and interesting time period in which to tell the story of Lily, in Seaview with her family for the season, where she runs into ghosts from her past. Nick her college sweetheart and Budgie, Lilly’s former classmate from college are now married and residing down the beach. Truths, lies, and secrets emerge as summer breezes turn to hurricane force winds. Fun, light, and perfect for a breezy day at the beach. Don’t forget to wear your 1930’s style swimsuit!

Skios by Michael Frayn (2102) – Reading Skios is kind of like falling into a Neil Simon play set in the Greek islands. Right from the start the reader is tumbling through the olive groves along with the disparate characters who are spending the weekend on this remote island. There are doddering academics, wacky philanthropists, aspiring yuppies, lying liars, and those out for just a little romantic fun who come together to make this a comedy of errors and tale of mistaken identities. You’ll want to gobble this up  in one read, like a delicious hunk of feta.

Memorable Memoirs/Essay collections

 If it’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother by Julia Sweeney (April 2013) – I loved this book. I loved the author’s humor. And, I appreciated her humor most when she discussed more serious topics: her chapters on adopting a girl from China and being a single mom are superb; her chapter on addiction is poignant; and her chapter on abortion should be read by everyone on all sides of this issue – but especially by policy makers.  To complete your summer of activity, read this and then go hear the former SNL star Ms. Sweeney as she is one of the voices in this summer’s animated movie – Monster’s University. ~ Lisa Christie

 How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (June 2011) — This book by the British comedian had my cousin in stitches during a recent beach vacation.  She seriously was laughing so hard she cried just from the blurb on the back of the book. She then laughed again and again as she picked up and read randomly from different chapters.  Based upon her reactions and recommendations from Lisa Cadow and our friend Cindy Pierce, I finally read this gem of a book.  I am so, so, so glad I did.  A very superb way to think about feminism and life, and a great way to laugh a bit as you end your  summer. ~ Lisa Christie

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (April 2013) – Mr. Sedaris always makes us laugh and always leaves us with something to think about.  This is not a “light” read, but it is full of humor.  We recommend “reading” this by listening to him narrate the audio-book version in his oh-so-unique voice.  Maybe you could listen as you take that final end of summer road trip. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Tantalizing Thrillers

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler Olsen (August 2011) – Mr. Adler-Olsen is my new favorite Scandinavian author of thrillers.  This book is the first one in a great series based in Denmark and featuring a flawed detective and his Muslim side kick.  I am tackling book three – A Conspiracy of Faith –  in August, when the Book Jam “goes reading”. ~ Lisa Christie

Ghost Man by Roger Hobbs (2013) – This first novel by a young American novelist is being reviewed with high marks by sources as diverse as The New York Times, Booklist, O magazine, and Kirkus Reviews.  I picked it up when Carin Pratt, a Norwich Bookstore bookseller recommended it for a great summer thriller.  She is right.  I usually do not enjoy books about gambling or drug wars or drug deals gone awry.  However, the language choices, the level of detail about underworld dealings and the compassion with which Mr. Hobbs writes about the criminal elements in our midst grabbed me and kept me engaged until the very end. ~ Lisa Christie

Perfect Picture Books – Just in case you need a “family” read for youngsters

The Pink Refrigerator by Tim Egan – We LOVE the Dodsworth books in our house for their humor and their humor.  In this latest outing, Dodsworth discovers a magic refrigerator that allows him to explore the world a bit. A PERFECT book to share with your young friends as they think about how to design their own summer adventures or as they claim “we’re bored”. ~ Lisa Christie

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Q: What did one book say to the other?

A: I just wanted to make sure we’re on the same page!

Here at the The Book Jam we are seriously on the same page of laughing and literature since for the past few weeks both Lisas have been helping to coordinate Laughing Matters: A Celebration of Books and Humor, a series of events benefitting our stellar local library. We are proud and energized  to be a part of Laughing Matters because literature, laughing, and libraries are all high on the list of things that matter to us MOST.

In honor of this theme we’ve chosen to highlight some of our favorite, recently published laugh-out-loud books and some others that just make us feel better and smile. Many were discussed last night during a Laughing Matters event featuring one of the funniest people we know – local comedian Cindy Pierce (if you don’t know who she is yet, you will!). An amazing storyteller, college speaker, and educator for women – and men – on issues of sexuality, she had the crowd rolling as she delivered a “book report” of sorts riffing on some of her favorite humor titles  such as , How to Be a Woman, Bossypants and Sleepwalk with Me, all of which are reviewed below.

So, on today of all days: Go forth, read, laugh, frequent your local library, and VOTE!

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (2012) – First, Lisa Christie: I have not yet read WILD, but it is now on the top of my list due to this gem of a book.  This collection of essays of questions and answers from Ms. Strayed’s Dear Sugar internet advice column is lovely.  You will tear up, laugh, smile a lot and feel better knowing someone like this exists in the world.  Bonus – you might pick up some great advice for your own life (basically it all boils down to the words — to do better, you are going to have to try (p 146)).

And, Lisa Cadow chiming in at this point in the review to give a double plug for this wise, thoughtful, deep, moving, surprising, hopeful, and -yes- funny book. Who knew advice columnists could write like this? And these aren’t just your one paragraph “Dear Annie” responses to life’s difficult questions. These are roadmaps, gems of responses considered from every angle and reflected back with grace and beauty. This book took my breath away and then gave me enough back to laugh and cry. You will want to keep a copy of this book on your bedside table to help you navigate life a little better. ~Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)- I usually avoid books by celebrities (one exception being listening to and enjoying Michael J. Fox read his first book – Lucky Man). So, it took awhile to read this one, and I am glad I finally did.  While enjoying her amazing humor and self-deprecating outline of her life to date, I irritated my poor husband by laughing out loud when he was trying to sleep.  Turn about is fair play however — I fell asleep with this book on my chest and woke to him having stolen it and waking me with his laughter.  This exchange among spouses offers conclusive proof females can be funny (a theme from the book) and that this book is good no matter what your gender.  Pick it up, read and laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (2012). Don’t let the cover of this masterpiece put you off (I don’t know, for me I felt a little like I might be setting out to read the memoirs of Cruella Deville – not that that would be a bad thing but not necessarily what I was looking for). Every sentence in this book has exquisite insight and side-splitting humor to offer about subjects such as women’s shoes, Germaine Greer, strident feminism, motherhood, handbags, hair styles, pornography, surviving puberty, and making it through dating with your self-worth intact — in sum, how to be a woman. Except Moran, in addition to adding her raucous, offbeat sense of British humor to the whole affair, is also generously sharing with readers the story of her life, which certainly wasn’t a walk in Hyde Park. Growing up in a family of eight with a small income, an even smaller house, and struggling with issues of obesity, puberty  was challenging for Moran. She is a wise woman, though, as becomes clear through her deft telling of this story. She also has much to offer women as they reflect on their own journeys, and those of their daughters. You may not agree with everything she says but boy – I mean, girl! – does she have a lot to say and say it well she does.   One of my favorite humor books and memoirs of the 2012. ~Lisa Cadow

 Sleepwalk With Me by Mike Birbiglia (2010) –  Just out in paperback, this memoir chronicles what it takes for one man to become a successful stand up comedian (This American Life, Thurber Prize for American Humor). In Mr. Birbiglia’s case, his path to stardom includes unique make out sessions as a teen, parents he loves but does not understand, avoidance of drugs, and a tendency to sleepwalk which lands him in unusual spaces. Read this to remember (or discover) what growing up in the 80s and 90s really meant, and how to be funny in the midst of poverty and often while in pain. One other note, a neighboring teen found this insightful as he navigates his life’s choices as well. So, the appeal of this book is multi-generational. ~ Lisa Christie

And some more don’t miss humor writers:

Bill Bryson – Only Bill Bryson can make boy scouts being eaten by bears funny.  Some of our favorite titles are:  A Walk in the Woods – about walking the AT, and I’m a Stranger Here Myself – about being in the US after 20 years abroad. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Listening to ANYTHING by David Sedaris  – for example, Me Talk Pretty One Day, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Holidays on Ice. His delivery is impeccible, his voice is so individual, and at times, his material makes you stop breathing you are laughing so hard. ~ Lisa Christie

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LISTEN NOW to “Books That Make Us Laugh”  or download the podcast at http://www.box.net/shared/gxbfpuiysy

A very funny walk

In the “Books That Make Us Laugh” jamcast Lisa and Lisa share some books that make us chuckle, or at least smile, every time. However, we each interpret this topic a bit differently. Lisa LC chose books that made her smile, not necessarily laugh out loud. J Lisa C chose the laugh-out-loud types. Our choices are:

Lisa LC – The Family Man  by Elinor Lipman,  A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson, and  The Dud Avocado a little known work by Elaine Dundy.

J Lisa C – Anything recorded byDavid SedarisA Walk in the Woods
 and Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town in America
by Bill Bryson, Frindle, The Landry News
and No Talking all by Andrew Clements, also good as audio books. 

Recorded January 2010.

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