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Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

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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Don’t worry, there still remains time to put those now waning but still (!) extra daylight hours to good use with Part Two of our Summer 2012 Picks.  As in the last Book Jam post, our criteria remain that summertime reads should optimally:

1) Not require too much work from the reader (hence our title – “Summertime and the Reading is Easy”);

2) Be placed in an “estival” – just a fancy word for having to do with summer – setting;

3) Elicit a chuckle or two.

So with these in mind, some further suggestions from us to inspire your summer reading. Have fun riding the waves, hiking those mountains, swinging in hammocks and turning those pages.

For a Summer Setting:

 The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt (2003). This is an “oldie-but- goodie” as it was published in 2003 but it’s lost none of its ability over the past decade to deliver a dose of summer nostalgia and insight into the meaning of vacation, memory, and family dynamics. The reader can practically feel the breezes from Buzzard’s Bay fluttering across the pages of this memoir of a family and it’s beloved beach house. Author Colt masterfully tells not only the story of a multi-generational experience in this eleven bedroom shingled behemoth on the shores of Wings Neck, Cape Cod but also of the history and psychology of summer pilgrimages since the time of Thoreau. Sadly, the time has come for the Colts to sell this treasure as the upkeep and maintenance has become too much of an expense and complications for the fourth generation to bear. A true classic to keep  on the bookshelf next to the bowls of sea glass and piles of shells. ~Lisa Cadow

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (2011). You can’t get any closer to the beach than with this novel that illustrates how a summer home can fill the hearts and minds of the family that inhabits is pine walls for half a century. Sullivan does an excellent job creating three generations of female characters whose hopes, dreams, and fears collide on the coast of Maine one year in late June. Young Maggie is pregnant, Ann Marie seemingly has it all but feels lonely and aimless in her empty nest, and matriarch Alice is still haunted by a night that changed the course of her life over sixty years ago. Need I say it? Maine is a great beach read. ~Lisa Cadow

For a Chuckle:

The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart (04 August 2012) – As with Ms. Stuart’s previous book – The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise – quirky and oh-so British characters drive the plot of this novel. In Pigeon Pie, Princess Alexandrina is left homeless and penniless by the sudden death of her father, the Maharaja of Brindor. Luckily, there are “grace-and-favor homes” in Hampton Court Palace for downtrodden royalty and Queen Victoria offers one to the Princess. Though the Palace is rumored to be haunted, initially all is well, the princess is befriended by three eccentric widows, the dampness of the quarters can be withstood with a stiff upper lip, her favorite servant – Pooki – comes along, and, well, they have a roof overhead. However, all gets complicated when Pooki bakes a pigeon pie for a picnic and the truly, truly insufferable General-Major Bagshot dies after eating a piece or two or three. When the coroner finds traces of arsenic in his body, Pooki becomes the #1 suspect. However, the Princess is not going to lose her dearest friend and unique discoveries and encounters abound. Bonus for reading it this summer?  The London setting will enhance any Olympic watching. ~ Lisa Christie

For when you need to escape your family vacation with a great book about one as dysfunctional as your own”

Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (May 2011) – I know the other Lisa reviewed this for our previous Shakespeare inspired post, but this may have been my favorite read this summer, so I am putting it in here as well. What caught my attention in a way that differed from the other Lisa’s?  As someone who has always been slightly fascinated by the influence of birth order on personality development, I loved that aspect of this fun, well-written book. It’s plot? Three diverse and interesting twenty-something sisters and their lives when they each return (for their own unique reasons) to their hometown to live for awhile with their parents. Why are they back home? Due to various failures of their post-collegiate lives to meet their desires, and a need to deal with their Mom’s cancer. Bonus? The Shakespeare references. ~ Lisa Christie

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And with this list, we sign off for the entire month of August to read more books ourselves and to find some superb new selections for you.

May you all have great, just can’t put this book down moments during your end-of-summer reading. See you after Labor Day with some great new selections.

~Lisa and Lisa

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