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Posts Tagged ‘In One Person’

Some Books for Book Clubs, and Anyone Looking for a Great Read

imagesWe were privileged to visit a local book club to present a few books for them to consider reading together. Their graciousness was incredible, and their appreciation for our ideas inspired us to share our picks with all of you. As you will see, we were slightly carried away and included MANY books by a diverse group of authors on many topics. So, our reviews are by necessity brief. To help you navigate this long list, we organized the titles in very loose categories, with a caveat that many would fit in multiple places. We hope this list inspires you to read some great books during these deliciously long summer days.

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Fiction – just for laughs/fun/easy reading/escape

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (June 2015) – Run-away bride drives home to Sonoma County, and is helped by her complicated family through decisions about what happens next.  Bonus — readers learn a lot about the history of Sonoma’s transition to vineyards.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life as a 1960s BBC sitcom star.

Foreign Affairs by Allison Lurie (1964) – Life of an American English professor becomes complicated when she spends a term in England with a younger colleague. It is a fun read that also won the Pulitzer.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2013) – Mom runs away from Seattle playground dramatics (and fulfills a fantasy felt by many at one point their parenting lives).

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A love story told backwards beginning with the deaths of the main characters from a fall off a cliff on Mallorca to the moment they met decades before.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) – A fun, well-told tale of suburban parenting.

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Fiction – slightly more serious

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (1997) – Dramatic, different, compelling. All the things a story should be.

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – The story of Teddy from Atkinson’s Life After Life.  A great read for WWII fiction fans, fans of pilots and those of you who ever wondered what might have been.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – Two remarkable characters try to survive the siege of Leningrad. Wicked with fun, yet poignant.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (2014) – Contemporary Ireland after the fiscal meltdown provides the background for a superb cast of characters. Enjoy.

Any novel by Halldor Laxness (Independent People) – This Nobel Prize winning author from Iceland is gifted, and his books take you to a land many of us never get to visit to see people we enjoy getting to know.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – Set in the aftermath of the collapse of civilization this tells the story of a Hollywood star, a savior and a cast of actors wandering what used to be the Great Lakes.

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2013) – Set ten years after civilization collapses, a man, his conscience and his dog try to figure out life.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – A page-turning fictional account of Margaret Mead’s life. Enjoy your time in the Samoan backcountry.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – A fictional account of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. In this book the author pictures her as a superb story-teller who becomes a memorable protagonist for a great piece of historical fiction.

My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – A classic tale of the American Midwest and the American immigration story.

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A saga spanning the 20th century in China and Los Angeles. Enjoy this tale of how a father’s love for China shapes his daughter’s life. We have recommended this to many book clubs – including an all men club – with great success.

The Submission by Amy Waldman  (2012) – This fiction answers what happens when the winning design for a monument for 9-11 is awarded to a Muslim.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – A story by a first time author, who also happens to work in a facility for the mentally ill, about a young man’s struggle with mental illness.  Not as depressing as that sounds.

Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi (2013) – A tale of immigration to America, the pull of the home country, and how some decisions by your parents have ramifications for you for the rest of your life.

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Pairings of books – because sometimes reading books back to back enhances the experience

The Cove by Ron Rash (April 2012) and In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent (2000)These two books are gorgeously written and approach the Civil War from two different settings, an isolated holler in North Carolina and the mountains of Vermont.

On Beauty (2008) by Zadie Smith with Howard’s End by EM Forster (1910) – On Beauty beautifully retells Howard’s End, a classic tale of England.

Prep (2004) and American Wife (2008) by Curtis Sittenfeld – In these two books, Ms. Sittenfeld tackles Prep School and former first lady Laura Bush.  Both will leave you thinking differently.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person  (2012) – Madame Bovary plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

Girl At War by Sara Novic (2015) with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Both books tackle the impact of war – one in Croatia and one in Chechnya – on those left in its wake.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) and Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansome (2008) – Both books look at WWII from the perspective of the Spanish Civil War.  Mr. Furst explores this theme using a thriller, Ms. Sansome in a more traditional historical novel.

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These words begin this novel about a mixed race Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan (2015) – This novel explores the consequences of bullying in a tale of a high school girl who moves from NYC to a football obsessed town in Alabama.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – A story of how one boy is trying not to let a tragic accident define his life and how a girl with a disfigured face shows him the way (sort of).   

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A tale for middle grade readers that illustrates the importance of perspectives and prejudice.  The plot can be summed as a black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man.  This book shows there is more to that tale.

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Short Stories/poetry

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection of short stories – some completely haunting — by a master storyteller.

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (2014) – Stories about Communists in the USA and abroad.

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Memoir

H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (2015) – TH White, birds and dealing with the loss of a father mingle in this well-told memoir.

Any book by Alexandra Fuller – A superb set of memoirs about growing up in Africa and finding one’s place in the world.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway (1964) – A FABULOUS tale of life as an American ex-pat in Paris that is sprinkled with the famous — the Hemingways, F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and others.

West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942) – SUPERB tale of a woman and her life in flight, as a horse trainer and as a woman making her way in 20th century Africa.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (2007) – The author of All the Light We Cannot See first wrote this memoir of his year in Rome on a writing fellowship with his wife and newly born twins.

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Current Issues

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) – Timely collection of lectures about race in the USA.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – These poems are cleverly illustrated and outlined in a way that opens conversations about race in the USA.

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History

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) – The historian tackles two brothers and their impact on the world. Or you could read his Truman or John Adams and then watch the primaries and discuss USA politics all night long.

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Essays

Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – A collection of essays about America, Americans and how to live.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) – Mr, Chabon has written a superb group of thoughts about being a man, fatherhood, being a son and friend. Enjoy.

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AIDS & Literature (Plus More Details about Grassroot Soccer and Its Work to Eliminate HIV/AIDS)

Our earlier post, “Africa: Part One,” was inspired by Grassroot Soccer (GRS) and listed important, memorable books set in Africa.  GRS uses the game of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV and create an AIDS free generation, focusing most of its work in Africa.

Now, in an attempt to better understand the AIDS epidemic which has so effected that continent, we recommend two books that angle in on this devastating disease.  Please note that in the titles we’ve paired below, AIDS is depicted as an illness afflicting homosexual white men and both are set (or begin) several decades ago in the United States.

The typical HIV/AIDS patient today is very different.  According to the GRS web site (2008 report by UNAIDS):

  • Worldwide, 33 million men, women, and children are infected with HIV.
  • 2.7 million became newly infected in 2007 (roughly 7400 every day)
  • 45% of all new infections occur among 15-24 year-olds.
  • Less than 40% of young people have comprehensive HIV/AIDS knowledge.
  • 67% of people living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

But no matter who HIV/AIDS afflicts and no matter where they live, the disease and its effects on sufferers and their families remains the same. We believe the following selections will help the reader better understand AIDS and the history of the epidemic through though the lens of literature.

In One Person by John Irving (May 2012) – There are books that you read that are just great stories and keep you turning pages because it is important to discover what happens next.  There are books that while you are reading them remind you of places you have been and people you have encountered.  There are books that remind you people can be amazing, and that progress in improving the way humans treat one another is possible.  There are books that inspire you to ponder what you can do to help the world be a better place.  There are books that illustrate the power of literature to make one think.  This book did all of these things for me.

The story of William/Bill Abbot/Dean, a boy growing up in a rural Vermont town housing an all-boys academy, having “crushes on all the wrong people” is a novel at its best.  Narrated by a 70-ish year old Bill, as he reflects upon his life, the plot covers his life from his early teens to present day.  You watch him navigate high school, live as an adult, and learn about the mysteries surrounding his birth.  Warning –the mysteries about and the coincidences surrounding his father are among the weaker plot points in the novel; so please breeze by them in order not to miss the power of this book.

I enjoyed most of the characters populating this novel, even those of a less savory nature.  I smiled at the fact that great literature (i.e., Madame Bovary, The Tempest, works by James Baldwin and the Bronte sisters) is an important aspect of the plot.  And yes, because of Bill’s bi-sexual identity and his multiple partners, and the span the novel encompasses, you know from the first page that AIDS will impact his life as an adult in the 1980s. That knowledge does not ruin the plot and the pages dealing with that epidemic are among the most powerful in this book.  To say much more would give too much away.  Please read it an enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

And the Band Played On: Politics, people and the AIDS epidemic by Randy Shilts (1987) – When first published, this book dramatically changed and framed how AIDS was discussed.   Shilts’ expose revealed why AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked while most institutions ignored or denied the threat, and he is often harsh in his reporting.  While the data and the portraits of the AIDS epidemic differ tremendously today (e.g, infected women; the epidemic on the African continent), this powerful story of AIDS when it became part of the US conversation about sexually transmitted diseases, remains important.  A 20th anniversary edition (2007) is available, and a movie based upon the book can be viewed on DVD. ~ Lisa Christie

BONUS PICK: For those readers looking for insight into the epidemic today, our friend Rob Adams at Grassroot Soccer also recommends Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin. This book discusses how Africa became the epicenter of this disease and why the implications for the world are vast. Neither Lisa has yet finished his recommendation, but we are grateful we have started this important book.

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On April 30th, we held our first “Pages in the Pub,”  an event designed to bring together independent booksellers, literary bloggers, public librarians, and book lovers for an evening of talking about great titles. We gathered at a local inn, sipped wine, and turned pages all with the goal of raising money for our public library.

We are pleased to inform you that we oversold and packed guests into The Norwich Inn that evening. More than 60 people attended (even though we had limited it to 50)  and we raised over $500 for the Norwich Pubic Library.

Presenters for our first “Pages in the Pub” included: Superb Norwich Bookstore Booksellers, Carin Pratt and Penny McConnel, Lucinda Walker – the amazing director of the Norwich Public Library – and our own Lisa Cadow of The Book Jam, with bonus books presented by Lisa Christie, also of The Book Jam, whose official role during the evening was to act as moderator.

For those of you unable to join us, a recap of the selections from each presenter is included below – along with a their own six word review. Why six words? Because we wanted to just whet your appetites and then have you research and read more for yourselves. Plus if we went any longer, we’d run out of space!

And don’t worry, if you must have more information right away, each title is linked to an independent bookstore’s review.

Carin Pratt

Carin, a new Vermont resident, sells books at the Norwich Bookstore after serving for twenty years as Executive Producer of CBS’s Face the Nation – yes, THAT Face the Nation.  We think that’s mighty impressive – but more importantly,  she’s a lovely person who we are privledged to know.  And, we really enjoyed her picks for Pages in the Pub.:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life death and hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo – nonfiction (2012) – Mumbai slums tragedy. Not beautiful. Great.

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw – fiction (2012) – Girl dies. How do survivors deal?

The Obriens by Peter Behrens – fiction (2012) – Man, marriage, family. Compelling, tragic saga.

Lisa Cadow

Lisa is one of the Lisas behind the Book Jam blog. She is also the founder and Chief Crepe officer of Vermont Crepe and Waffle, which is now moving into its busy fifth season with the opening of our local farmers markets.  Her crepes are fantastic and her book picks are superb and diverse – enjoy!

Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka fiction (2012)- Wartime Japanese Brides. New Lives. Poetic.

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson –fiction (2011) – Despite turmoil, Nigerian girl learns midwifery.

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (2012) – Female Restaurateur with MFA writes spicy memoir.

Lucinda Walker

Lucinda is the talented  librarian for our town of Norwich.  She is truly a treasure and we are so glad she offered her gifts to our town.   Her picks are fun and thoughtful. Have a great time reading them.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechtel – nonfiction (2006) – What makes our parents tick? Graphic.

The Tower, the Zoo & the Tortoise by Julia Stuart – fiction (2010) – Quirky and sweet. A love story.

Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham- fiction (1944) – Bohemian, Post WWI, Paris, Soul-Searching & Snobs.

Penny McConnel

Penny is the co-founder and co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore.  When the Lisas of the Book Jam grow up, we want to be her.  She chose “oldie but goodies” to discuss. So pick up her selections and enjoy some contemporary classics.

Disturbances in the Field by Lynn Sharon Schwartz – fiction (1983) – Philosophy, friends, music, marriage, NYC.

Stoner by John Williams – fiction (1965) – Beautifully written life of sensitive professor.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd –fiction (2003) – Fictionalized biography of interesting worldly man.

BONUS PICKS – because you can never have too many good books

Lisa Cadow’s bonus round

Stones in the River by Ursula Hegi – fiction (1996) – Nazis. Outsider heroine. German village. Astounding.

Lisa Christie

Lisa is the other Lisa of the Book Jam. She was the founding Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and subsequently served as Executive Director of Everybody Wins! USA, placing children’s literacy dear to her heart.  Her picks are eclectic and involve places far away.  Happy travels.

In One Person by John Irving – fiction (2012) – Bisexual boy. Colorful family. Life unfolds.

The Terror by  Dan Simmonsmystery (2007)- Real Arctic Shipwreck. Everyone Dies. Why?

Vida by Patricia Engel – connected short stories (2010) – Colombian immigrants in Jersey. Teen matures.

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A friend of ours recently announced that his family is moving to South Africa as part of his new job as COO of  Grassroot Soccer – a Norwich based organization that uses soccer to promote HIV/AIDS education in Africa, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.  His mother-in-law asked us for great reads that would tell her more about the African countries where Grassroot Soccer (GRS) works. (We are guessing she is already planning a trip to see her grandchildren.)

We thought this offered The Book Jam a great opportunity to talk about exceptional books about Africa and to mention the important work of GRS.  Unfortunately, there is simply too much information for one post.  So we’ve split it into two.  Part Two will take a closer look at AIDS and its impact through the lens of literature, and have more information about the work of GRS.  It will post in May to coincide with the publication of John Irving’s new novel – In One Person – which while about a lot is at some level about the impact of AIDS on 1980s America.

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Until then, Part One — sixteen books (the number is an homage to March Madness we suppose) we can recommend that deal with the African continent in some form or fashion.  The first four have our usual review length, the rest are a list for those of you looking for more titles.

Kenya: West with the Night (1942, 1983) by Beryl Markham. This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, rode, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century.  This book may start out in Kenya, telling of Markham’s first passion (horses) but it then lifts the reader up, up, away, and into Northern Africa as Markham prepares to fly to Britain, and then finally to set records crossing the Atlantic solo. A fantastic piece of literature. As Hemingway said of Markham, she “can write rings around the rest of us who consider ourselves writers…it really is a bloody wonderful book.” A GREAT read and a superb book club book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Kenya, Zimbabwe (and the former Rhodesia),and Zambia: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (2011) and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight  by Alexandra Fuller (2003). Alexandra Fuller is simply one of the best memoir writers around. The stories of her British/Scotch family’s life in Africa are so outlandish, funny, and tragic that they could only be true. But it takes a writer of tremendous talent to bring the damaged characters, the exotic landscape, and the complex, violent history of so many countries  so fully to life. “Cocktail Hour” is Fuller’s love letter to her heroic, larger than life mother who after living in, farming in, and losing so much in Africa for all of her adult life is still there, still loving the continent, and finishing out her final expatriate days on a thriving fish farm. “Don’t Let’s Go“, Fuller’s earlier book about growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s will take your breath away and make you marvel at the resilience and adventurous spirit of this very special family.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow for the 2003 book. Only Lisa Cadow has read the 2011 book

Rwanda: Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (2012) – For me, this author’s amazing gift is that she makes a book about a country torn apart from genocide somehow hopeful, without flinching from the awful truths contained in Rwanda and in the world’s lack of response to the horrors there.  My theory of how she manages this is that you care for her hero, Jean Patrick, the Tutsi boy who anchors this narrative and his dream to run in the Olympics. And you care for all the unique characters he encounters while maturing from boy to young man, especially his girlfriend Bea and his room mate Daniel.  The story effectively illustrates the strong ties of family and friendship, and the love that can overcome hatred even as all hell breaks loose – even if ultimately, that love can not save everyone.  Since it is the second of the two winners of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction that I have truly enjoyed, I vow to add the annual winners to my annual reading lists. ~ Lisa Christie

Kenya: Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood by Elspeth Huxley (1959, 2000) This is a classic in the genre of white women with African childhoods, right up there with West With the Night and Out of Africa. I had never heard of it (really!) – surprising given that I’m a huge fan of this kind of literature – and, even though it is told from the perspective of a very young Elspeth, it was a joy to come to this tale in my 40’s. Elspeth’s voice is clear, amusing, innocent, and yet also somehow wise. She tells of her family’s moving to a remote area of Kenya to grow coffee in 1912 when she was just 5 years old. There are stories of snakes, the travails of building shelter in such a foreign land, and of her family’s encounters with the Masai, the Kikuyus, plus the various European and British “tribes” (the Scots, the Dutch) that struggled to settle in this unforgiving and forever challenging environment  ~ Lisa Cadow

BRIEFLY, More Titles to Enjoy

Bostwana: Number One Ladies Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith. You will fall in love with Mma Ramatswe’s common sense approach to life and to solving mysteries in an everyday Botswana setting.  ~ Lisa Cadow

Kenya: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (1927) – Yes, Meryl Streep comes to mind, but this is a powerful piece of literature set in colonial Kenya even without an academy award-winning movie.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

NigeriaTiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson (2011) and The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (2010) – One, a coming of age novel that examines the complex political and economic problems of oil-rich Niger and another that (often humorously) explores the complexities of polygamy. Please refer to our October 11, 2011 blog for a more detailed review. ~ Lisa Cadow

South Africa: Books by Booker and Nobel Prize winning author Nadine Gordimer, including July’s People (1982) or The Pickup (2001). Insight into Apartheid and often erroneous expectations and misunderstandings among blacks and whites. ~ Lisa Christie

Malawi: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (2012) -Two forms – one for kids and one for adults – of the remarkable story of William Kamkwamba, a boy from Malawi who dreamed of building a windmill to help his country. ~ Lisa Christie

Ethiopia: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – Gorgeous gorgeous writing and a story that spans years and continents.  Truly memorable.

For teens

South Africa: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay – A powerful (pun intended) tale of what one person can do in their own life to affect injustices. Last read years ago with young teens who loved it and the movie it inspired. ~ Lisa Christie

Two More for Kids

Malawi: Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg (June 2012) – Clare is recovering (as much as one can) from her mother’s death when her father relocates them from Boston to Malawi. This kids’ book illustrates the power of friendship and cultural exchanges. ~ Lisa Christie

African continent: The Boy Who Biked the World: On the Road to Africa by Alastair Humphreys (2011) – The journal entries with drawings and “actual handwriting” in this are clever, and the moral that with hard work and enduring some tough situations you can reach your dreams is important.  ~ Lisa Christie

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