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This “3 Questions” features Michelle Hoover, author of Bottomland. Ms. Hoover is the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University and teaches at GrubStreet, where she leads the Novel Incubator program. She is a 2014 NEA Fellow and has been a MacDowell Fellow and a winner of the PEN/New England Discovery Award. Her debut, The Quickening, was a 2010 Massachusetts Book Award “Must Read.” She is a native of Iowa and lives in Boston.
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Ms. Hoover will visit the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on March 30th to discuss her latest book, Bottomland, a novel based loosely on an unearthed family secret. The book follows the Hess family as they settles on Iowa farmland hoping to escape anti-German sentiment after WWI. As the country marches towards WWII, lives are changed when two of the daughters disappear.  The book has been critically acclaimed by many including Kirkus Reviews.

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The event with Ms. Hoover 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.

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

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse taught me that both the shape of the sentence and its ideas matter, that these things are not in opposition but feed on each other. Kent Haruf’s novels, in particular Plainsong, gave me the courage to be plain spoken in my fiction, which I believe is my instinct in the first place. Toni Morrison’s Beloved proved that point of view and structure could always be fluid, and that the author has complete freedom in these choices, as long as the author carries the reader well enough along on that ride.url-1.jpgurl.jpg

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

I’m currently fascinated with Kate Atkinson. I would love to talk with her about her career, moving from her beloved, rather zany, experimental books to more genre type crime novels, and now her two historical novels, Life After Life and God of Ruins, both of which I consider two of my favorites. I would love to talk to Emily St. John Mandel too. Her novel Station Eleven was perfection. I’d like to talk to writers who I think are essentially normal people that have done great, unusual work. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to talk at all.

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3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

I generally keep a pile of about ten or so, and the ones that catch me immediately are the ones I finish. I finished Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones a few weeks ago. A remarkable experience. And then there’s Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road, which I should have read years ago. Then there’s Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last, Jesse Ball’s A Cure for Suicide, and Susan Barker’s The Incarnations—all from last year’s top book lists. I have a copy of Julianna Baggott’s Harriot Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders, as well as two books by former students of mine: E.B. Moore’s Stones in the Road and Emily RossHalf in Love with Death. I know these last three well, but they’re still in that pile, keeping it warm.

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Once again it is mud season in Vermont and this means those of us living in Norwich are thinking about which Table of Content we will attend next month.  The rest of you benefit from our dilemma because we are dedicating this post to the books that are inspiring each dinner, with a review by the hosts as to why they chose their book.

How do these dinners work?  Well, on two April Saturdays (2nd and 30th) in an event called Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library, will host dinners in their homes to raise money for our superb librarians and the building they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts selected as the theme for their evening. To add excitement to the event, dinner guests choose their dinner assignment by the book selections — the location and hosts are revealed only after the selected books and guests have been matched.18201d855ea2f82fb9a2f3bee3777cb4.jpg

How does this relate to books for you to read?  Well, the books they selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your reading preferences because once again, the hosts provided us with an eclectic selection. We thank all the hosts for their contributions to our reading lists and to the library’s bottom line by hosting these delicious fundraising dinners. We truly hope you enjoy reading some of their selections. BONUS for this post only: If you choose to purchase your Tables of Content book from the Norwich Bookstore, they will donate 20% of the purchase price to the Norwich Public Library! Just mention that your purchase is for the Tables of Content event. This applies to ebook sales as well.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Books Inspiring the April 2nd Dinner Parties

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton (2015) – John Grisham called it “a marvelous debut novel… Set in coal country of Appalachia, rich in history and lore and tragedy. The story has everything a big, novel should have, and I hated to put it down.” Join us for a great night of conversation and dinner!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (2015) – In this picaresque novel, John Perdu cures human maladies through his literary apothecary – a book barge on the Seine, in Paris. When he discovers a letter from his past, Mr. Perdu sets out to find love through the people, landscape, and food of Provence. Join us for fun conversation, French food and fine wine from the Norwich Wine Shop. Relaxed and casual!

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)- Join us for an evening of food and drink inspired by Donna Tartt’s intriguing novel The Secret History. The story unfolds at a small Vermont college, where a 20-year-old Californian transplant describes his entry into a mysterious circle of students studying Greek classics in an exclusive program. The events leading up to, and following, a tragic event are all at once suspenseful, mesmerizing and engrossing.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (2015) – In a not too distant future, California has completely dried up and is inhabited by the remnants of society who chose to live in arid independence. Surviving on rationed cola and squatting in an abandoned mansion, a former model and army deserter embark on an adventure when a mysterious child enters their lives. Watkins’ powerful use of language keeps you thirsty for every drop of water as an encroaching desert threatens to swallow what’s left of humanity. The characters in the book no longer have access to California cuisine, but dinner guests will dine on local foods and wines made famous in The Golden State. Attire is Californian casual.

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas (2011) – Sira Quiroga lives alone in Madrid with her seamstress mother and apprentices under her during her teens. By 20, she’s a professional seamstress and engaged to a mild-mannered government clerk. Sira thinks she knows the trajectory of her life until she meets a handsome, charismatic salesman who sweeps her off her feet. This leads to a chain of events that lands Sira in Morocco abandoned, penniless, and hopelessly in debt. In desperation, she falls back on her dressmaking skills and builds a successful business which ultimately brings her back to Madrid on a dangerous mission. There, she becomes the preeminent couturier of Nazi wives and is is enmeshed in the world of espionage. Join us for Spanish-inspired food and drink and a discussion about how ordinary citizens can make extraordinary contributions in challenging times, then and now. Dress is casual.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1965) – Hemingway’s incredible memoir of life as an American ex-pat in Paris provides the theme for this French inspired meal. Your hosts for the evening came to read this book late in our lives; and we are so glad we finally found the time to enjoy his view of life in Paris and his quest for literary fame. This feast may even move outside if the spring-like weather holds. But inside or outside, we’ll celebrate life among the authors, painters and conversationalists that surrounded Hemingway, and we will serve a meal inspired by life along the Seine. Reading the book in advance is not required. We look forward to welcoming you to our table; please join us!

Books Inspiring April 30th Dinners

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food by Barbara Kingsolver (2007) – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a most impressive piece of work.  Barbara Kingsolver makes a convincing case for putting diversified farms at the center of American food production and home cooking at the center of eating. The book is filled with engaging research, beautiful imagery, and delightful humor. Be prepared to gain new perspectives on the ‘industrial-food pipeline’ and the many benefits of eating locally. Creating a food culture that’s better for the neighborhood and better on the table is the important idea explored here. Barbara Kingsolver began her family’s journey in the month of April eating locally sourced food, and we’ll follow her lead. Our farm-to-table dinner will be made from all local ingredients. Dress is casual. Please bring a passage you enjoyed from the book or a story about your favorite locally-sourced foods.

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britian by Bill Bryson (2016) – His words are witty, historically accurate, at times socially unacceptable, and frequently irreverent. His geography and sense of place are wonderfully described in a journey that roughly follows the Bryson line from Bognor Regis in the South  to Cape Wrath in the North.  Mr. Bryson invites us to accompany him as a fellow traveler, sharing his experiences as if we were there. An old map of the UK will be provided and guests are invited to place pins on their favorite villages and share a favorite story. All this to be accompanied by cosmopolitan fare while we eschew the stewed tomatoes, clotted cream and spotted dick. His prose is precise, humorous, and yes, again irreverent. Guests are encouraged to select a favorite passage to be read aloud. Dress is British Casual.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (2014) – “She was thinking about the way she’d always taken for granted that the world had certain people in it… How without any one of these people the world is subtly but unmistakably an altered place, the dial turned just one or two degrees.” Welcome to Year 20, when survivors of an apocalyptic flu pandemic and of the ensuing chaos remake their worlds after so many lives interrupted. Shakespeare’s work survives, while the Internet, cell phones and jet travel are no more. Our characters are connected by a moment in time and by relationships that reveal themselves in life and art. Come connect with new friends and neighbors in our moment in time, and we’ll share great food, drink and merriment.  

The Heist by Daniel Silva (2014) – Stolen art, international espionage, a Middle East dictator — A thrilling page turner, The Heist by Daniel Silva follows Israeli spy/art restorer, Gabriel Allon across Europe and the Middle East as he hunts for one of the world’s most famous stolen paintings.The Heist was one of Penny McConnel’s selections for Pages in the Pub this past December. Please join us for some great Italian food, wine and conversation with others who like to indulge in some of the finest spy fiction.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) – In the midst of a national epidemic of injustice, particularly toward black men, this personal, moving, poetic, and sensitive letter of an African-American father writing to his teenage son about racism in America is something we all need to consider as a community. Alongside a discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates gripping story, Between the World and Me, we’ll enjoy the comforts of a warm meal and good drink. Dress is casual!

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl (2014) – To a mouth-watering base of the Manhattan foodie scene, add zesty insider information about magazine publishing. Mix well with a dash of mystery, a sprinkle of romance, a generous pinch of food history, and a scant spoonful of personal tragedy. The resulting literary confection is Delicious!, the first novel by legendary Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl. The New York Times Book Review sums it up as “a whole passel of surprises: a puzzle to solve; a secret room; hidden letters; the legacy of James Beard; and a parallel, equally plucky heroine from the past, who also happens to be a culinary prodigy.” Great food and a great story–what could be more fun, or delicious?! In keeping with the spirit of the book, our menu will rely on recipes from the Gourmet archives (but will NOT include any dishes developed to accommodate the limitations of wartime rationing!). No cast-iron guarantees, but Billie’s Gingerbread may make an appearance. So fire up your palate and come prepared to guess the secret ingredient in one of the dishes (a prize will be awarded!) and to entertain the group with a story about the best /most exotic meal you have ever had. Dress is colorful New York City creative; no all-black allowed!

The Martian by Andy Weir (2014) – After being left for dead during a brutal Martian storm, astronaut Mark Watney is forced to use his wits to survive. As he regains the ability to communicate with NASA and rescue missions are launched, we follow his ambitious plan to leave the red planet behind. Join us for some disco music (courtesy of a music collection) and a delightful dinner that will push the limits of molecular gastronomy. As is only fair, potatoes will feature heavily in both food and drink, but there will also be feats of edible engineering that would challenge even Watney’s resourcefulness. Be prepared to science the sh*t out of this feast while calculating how many pirate ninjas are required to power a rover down Main St.

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1890) – Drugs, murder, marriage, stolen treasure, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, London – Sherlock Holmes! How could that be anything but fun?  Please join us for an exotic evening where we’ll seek to blend both the East and West. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. We’ll chat. There’s just so much to talk about! We’re bound to have fun. Please come.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – We followed Joe Rantz on his incredible journey from a challenging, often heart wrenching childhood, to the University of Washington rowing team, to the winning rowing team of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Along the way we thought long and hard about resilience, opportunity, personal journeys, and the pure and special beauty of being part of an amazing team.  We even learned a thing or two about making boats! Join us for a dinner made for champions — you’ll eat and drink like an Olympian, and enjoy a great conversation to boot! Dress is sporty casual. Guests are strongly encouraged to share their favorite quote from the book, and their own best experiences as part of Olympic-like teams.

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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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