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Posts Tagged ‘Joan Didion’

Image result for images of madeleine kuninMadeleine Kunin — Vermont’s former three-term governor, who also served as the deputy secretary of education and ambassador to Switzerland under President Bill Clinton, and is the author of best selling books about her life in politics — has a new book, Coming of Age.

Governor Kunin will appear at 7 pm on Friday, November 16th at the Norwich Bookstore to discuss Coming of Age, her close and incisive look at what it is like to grow old. This event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat.Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties Cover ImageAnd now, her answers to our three questions. We note the brevity of her responses with gratitude and laughter as we reflect on how many, many words other politicians are speaking as election day looms. We are also taking this opportunity to personally thank her for how well she governed our home state, and for how gracious, passionate, and diplomatic she remains in all that she does. (By the way, please VOTE on Tuesday, November 6th, even though we can no longer cast a ballot for Governor Kunin.)

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

It’s difficult to pin point what three writers shaped me—In my early years I loved Nancy Drew. Later [books by] Alice Munro, and Ian McEwan.

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

Margaret Atwood

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Exit West, Calypso, and South and West.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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This week’s “3 Questions” features Melanie Finn, author of The Underneath. This novel follows a journalist struggling with the constraints of motherhood. In an effort to disconnect from work and save her marriage, she rents a quaint Vermont farmhouse for the summer. The discovery of a mysterious crawlspace in the rental with unsettling writing etched into the wall, unfolds a plot exploring violence and family.

Ms. Finn‘s previous work has been met with critical acclaim. Her first novel, Away From You was published to international accolades. Her second novel, The Gloaming, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2016,  a finalist for the Vermont Book Award, and The Guardian‘s “Not the Booker” Prize. After living in Kenya, Connecticut, New York, and Tanzania, Ms. Finn currently lives in Vermont with her husband Matt (a wildlife film maker), their twin daughters, three Tanzanian mutts, and two very old horses.

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Ms. Finn will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, May 16thThis event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of The Underneath. The novel goes on sale on May 15th, so you will be among the first to read it.

 

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

Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines, because of his lean prose and because, when I was 21, he told me in a dream that I should become a writer (seriously!); The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene because of the torpid physical and emotional atmosphere Greene creates, and his deeply flawed characters; Beatrix Potter’s books, because she’s not afraid to use long words when speaking to children, because of her humor, because her characters are true to themselves, they’re completely authentic.

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

Bruce Chatwin remains my major literary crush; he died in 1989 but I still dream of going for a long hike in obscure mountains with him – maybe Tibesti in southern Libya. He was interested is everything, anything – his books were so diverse in subject matter: he was an art expert, he walked through the Australian desert, he wrote about two brothers living on a remote farm in Wales and a slave trader in west Africa. There are many others – Margaret Atwood, Jane Smiley, Joan Didion, Willa Cather, Vladimir Nabokov, Ezra Pound, Philip Larkin, Graham Greene, Naguib Mahfouz – but, ooo, I’d be too scared of them. I mean, what do you say to Nabokov?

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks, Samantha Hunt’s The Dark Dark, and Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees.

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Maybe it was the fact that a few of our friends spent this autumn struggling with mental health issues, or maybe because one of us works in healthcare and October was National Mental Health Awareness Month in the USA, but very unintentionally it appears many of the books we have read recently contain a mental illness theme. And please, before you stop reading because you think our picks will be depressing and “who needs that in November (or what some Vermonters call ‘stick season’)?”, please know that these books are amazing and thought provoking. Plus, we could argue many great characters in great literature exhibited mental illnesses, we just don’t think of the books they were in as about illness (think Hamlet, Mrs. Dalloway, Holden Caulfield).

Perhaps mental illnesses are specifically labeled in these more recent books because the societal taboo around discussing mental illnesses is thawing a bit, and authors find themselves able to address mental illness in ways they could not have tried previously. Or, perhaps not, but whatever these authors’ rationales, we are glad for at least a few reasons. One, we truly hope it means that the world in general is more aware of and ideally accepting of people with mental illnesses. And two, it means some great new books are out there for all of us to read. While we have read many books that could work in today’s post, we limited ourselves to two recently published fiction choices and two slightly older memoirs.

We hope you will read them, even if mental illness makes you sad or uncomfortable, because they are all really good books.

Two TRULY AMAZING works of fiction

Shock of the FallThe Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – Wow, I cried at the end of this one. I completely understand why this novel was the COSTA book of the year for 2013 (awarded to fiction written by writers in Ireland and the UK). Told in a completely engaging manner in the first person by the main character Matthew (although you don’t know his name for awhile), this FIRST novel by Mr. Filer explores mental illness, what triggers it, how people help and hurt the patient’s prognosis, what mental health hospitals try to accomplish, how funding for services for mental health is precarious, and how the mentally ill function so well for so long, until they don’t. Mr. Filer is a mental health nurse (and I would add outstanding novelist) and his compassion for his patients comes through throughout this novel. The narration is brilliant; and, the situation is heart-breaking, unbelievably moving, bittersweet, and above all compelling. As London’s Daily Mail says, “you’re going to love it.” (This novel is currently available in Europe, and will be available in the USA in January 2015. You can pre-order it in the States; and for now, we link this pick to the Waterstones web site.) ~ Lisa Christie

Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages, this author charmed me with a narrative of a son trying to figure out his unusual family. A family orbiting the ups and downs of his mother and the manifestations of her bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, lots of humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book — well-written, short, and on many levels profound.) ~ Lisa Christie

Two insightful memoirs

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron (1992) – The author of Sophie’s Choice struggled with depression for years.  Years ago, a friend of mine, whose father also struggles mightily with depression, told me that his father stated this brief memoir by Styron came the closest he had ever read to describing what living with a mental illness feels like. He also said his dad recommends it to anyone living with someone suffering from depression. While admittedly sounding completely bleak, this book has been described as conveying “the full terror of depression’s psychic landscape, as well as the illuminating path to recovery”, and my memory of reading it years ago would second this assessment. ~ Lisa Christie

Blue Nights by Joan Didion (2012) – Written to help make sense of the death of her daughter, this book is full of moving and poetic prose, profound thoughts and insight into life with long undiagnosed mental illness, as well as the author’s own process of aging. While Ms. Didion is frustratingly very vague about the exact nature of her daughter’s illness and even the cause of her death, she refers throughout this lyrical memoir to the “signs” all along the way that something was troubling her daughter, and that in retrospect maybe help could have arrived in time. I am so glad I picked this up thinking I could use a good memoir, never knowing it would be a perfect companion pick for today’s post. ~ Lisa Christie (Lisa Cadow also supports any Didion selection)

This post is dedicated to Dr. Jerry M. Wiener, a psychiatrist who spent a significant portion of his career trying to lift the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses, and to his tremendous partner Louise Wiener whose professional life has been dedicated to educating children and their families.

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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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