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Posts Tagged ‘James Baldwin’

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This week’s “3 Questions” features Alexander Chee, a writer, poet, journalist, and reviewer. Both his latest book, The Queen of the Night and his Edinburgh have been bestsellers.  The Queen of the Night was a NYT Book Review Editor’s Choice and named a Best Book of the Year by NPRThe Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle. Mr. Chee is an Associate Professor at Dartmouth College.
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Mr. Chee will appear on July 27 at the 1793 Meetinghouse in Canaan, N.H.’s Historic District as part of the The Meetinghouse Readings in Canaan. He will be accompanied by Major Jackson, a poet and professor of English at the University of Vermont in an event moderated by Phil Pochoda.

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The Canaan readings are held at 7:30 pm on four Thursday evenings in July. These events are free and open to the public; no reservations needed. Please note that this event is not held at the Norwich Bookstore. For more information, visit meetinghouse.us or call the Canaan Town Library (603) 523-9650.

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1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?
I think we have books we hoped influenced us. I don’t know if we get to know the ones that really did influence us. Plainwater, by Anne Carson, and in particular, her essay, “Kinds of Water,” was a book I read and re-read for a decade, as if it could be a whetstone. The intense compression of the voice, the angular qualities of it, the humor, the playfulness–all were, are, qualities I aspire to. The Evidence of Things Not Seen, by James Baldwin, also left a profound mark on my imagination. The way he uses a series of murders as a lens to look inside the way the country functions, this changed my sense of what was possible in writing. But when I think back to the book’s that gave me a sense of permission, David Leavitt’s Family Dancing, his debut story collection, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, in particular, both left me feeling as if someone had opened a door–the door to the road that led here.
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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
David Wojnarowicz. I have a copy of his collection of essays, Close to the Knives, signed to me, and yet I have no memory of him directly. The younger me had the wisdom to get his signature on the book, but lacked the foresight to remember the day–he wasn’t as important to me until after I read the book, when he became, for a while, the single most important writer in my life. So, a coffee in order to rectify that, that is what I want most.
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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
The Little Virtues, by Natalia Ginzburg, Logical Family, the new memoir from Armistead Maupin, and The Fact of a Body, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich.
NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing and the living of life, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore or bookstore related venues. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to both attend these special author events and read their books.
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So, the relatives have left. And yes, you had a great time with them over the holidays; but, you are probably a bit grateful for some peace and quiet, and would love to fill it with a good book or two. Luckily, we have a few to recommend that hopefully hit whatever mood you are in. Thus, our first post of 2017 features a few good books – a novel/thriller, an actual thriller, another thriller, a collection of essays, a reference to the original 1963 inspiration for those essays, a memoir, a quote book inspired by a beloved children’s book, and a link to that children’s book – to peruse in the quiet that the relatives left.

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Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil Cover ImageTell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta (2016) – Apparently we have been missing some great YA novels if Ms. Marchetta’s first adult novel (we’d actually call it a mystery/thriller) is any indication of her ability to tell a tale. This book is part crime story, part immigration tale, part indictment of prejudice against Muslims, part family saga, and totally gripping. Whatever you want to call it, it is worth reading – full of empathy for each and every complicated character. If you need a plot summary, the tale revolves around a suspended cop’s quest to find the truth behind a devastating bombing involving his daughter. I particularly loved the fact that half-way through I was certain the book had to end, yet another plot twist produced enough pages for me to keep reading for another hour or two. Pick this up for “a novel of great scope, of past and present, and above all the Marchetta trademark of a fierce and loving heart” as Markus Zusak of The Book Thief fame blurbs on its back cover. ~ Lisa Christie

619p8s6m37l-_sx320_bo1204203200_In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (paperback 2016 ) – And now for a pure mystery! Hot off the presses in paperback this past summer, this thriller is a perfect winter read: mysterious footprints in the snow, harrowing runs through a freezing woods, kitchen doors blowing open for no reason, letting in the chilly November wind. Ware’s first mystery  (we reviewed her second, the excellent  The Woman in Cabin 10  back in November) is sure to pull in readers as voyeurs to a “hen party” gone all wrong. Set in the English countryside, an odd grouping of friends is gathered to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of beautiful Clare – but then a murder happens and things spiral out of control. Told in the popular, current style by an unreliable narrator Nora, who is a crime writer herself, this book keeps readers on their toes as they slowly learn the complicated story of childhood friends who now find themselves thrown together ten years later for a weekend they will never forget. ~Lisa Cadow

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race Cover ImageThe Fire This Time: A great new generation speaks about race by Jesmyn Ward (2016) – This collection of recent essays inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America – The Fire Next Time, is a powerful way to start the year. Perhaps it will help you figure out how to advocate for equal opportunity for all; it will definitely make you think about what life is like for those with black skin in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie

Men We Reaped: A Memoir Cover ImageAnd, if you like The Fire This Time, I highly recommend Ms. Ward’s memoir – Men We Reaped  – illustrating 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.” I am glad she found her voice, and told her story. ~ Lisa Christie

365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Precepts Cover Image365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Precepts by RJ Palacio (2014 in hard cover/2016 in paperback) – A GREAT book to use every day of the year. Mr. Browne of Wonder teaching fame has put together a list of his precepts in this companion book to Wonder – one for every day of the year. Each is uniquely illustrated on a page, and each month is introduced by Mr. Browne’s recollections from teaching in essays and conversations between Mr. Browne and Auggie, Julian, Summer, Jack Will, and others from Wonder, providing a Wonder epilogue of sorts. This would be a great book to keep near the dinner table to help start conversations about life based upon that day’s quote, or Mr. Browne’s essays. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

PS – Happy Birthday Dad – you definitely effectively instilled my love of reading – Lisa Christie

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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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