Posts Tagged ‘Toni Morrison’


Yet again, we recently had a conversation in which we stated that while AMAZING authors are writing superb books for children today, children do not always have to read the absolutely latest books. It really is worth looking at books written over the years — because even if that book for ten-year-olds is ten years old, it is new to today’s ten-year-olds. So, with that in mind, we are reviewing a few “classics” written over the years for kids and young adults.


For Children

FC9780448464961.jpgThe Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene (assorted years) – These classic detective novels about teenage Nancy, her boyfriend Ned, and their friends were loved, loved, loved by one of us. They are also beloved all over the world, with multiple movies and TV shows. This does not make them any less magical for children who discover them for the first time. We now add the Trixie Belden Series by Julie Campbell – This series was read and re-read as an seven, eight, and nine year old by the one of us who could not even remotely relate to the perfect Nancy Drew; Trixie’s obvious flaws and obnoxiously curly hair made her feel right at home. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689846236-1.jpgThe Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938) – This tender, heart-renching tale of a boy named Jody and the orphaned fawn he adopted has been read by millions and made into a movie. The fawn, Flag, becomes Jody’s best friend. Unfortunately, their life in the woods of Florida is harsh, complete with fights with wolves, bears, and even alligators.  However, ultimately their failure at farming forces Jody to part with his dear friend.~ Lisa Cadow

FC9780689844454.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill, he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.)

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my now 12-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie (Also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.)

FC9780881035414.jpgAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947) – This infamous diary, written by a teenage victim of the Holocaust, has helped millions understand the horrors of WWII. As so many know because of this diary, in 1942,  thirteen-year-old Anne and her family fled their home in Amsterdam to go into hiding. For two years, until they were betrayed to the Gestapo, they lived in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building, facing hunger, boredom, the constant insane difficulties and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. With this diary Anne Frank let us all know what so many experienced. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780544570986.jpgBooked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (assorted years) – Yes, we love Mr. Alexander’s books. Yes, we have recommended both these books before. But trust us, the youth readers you love will love these books about soccer (Booked) and basketball (The Crossover). They are poetic, perfect for reluctant readers, and both address how life happens while you have your eye on the ball. (Also reviewed in Sports Books That are About So Much More.)

FC9780545791342.jpgHarry Potter Series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – This ebtire series reminded us as adults of the magic of stories for children and adults. This series magically reminded readers all over the world that kids can be powerful and adults can be stern, but helpful. Please don’t let the commercial aspects of successful movies and theme parks turn you away from these characters. They really are great tales. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780786838653.jpgPercy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan (assorted years) – This was an important audio books for me and my two sons.  It combines Greek myths and real life, relatable kids – perfect. And, if you like this initial Percy Jackson series there are many, many spin-off series, including one devoted to Egyptian myths, one to Norse myths, and one that combines Greek and Roman myths, using characters from the original Percy Jackson Series. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780064409391.jpgThe Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis (assorted years) – We both read and re-read this series throughout elementary school and loved it each time. The series addresses bullying, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes, that adults are often helpful to children, but sometimes they are not, teamwork, and the power of great stories. For Lisa Christie, this series truly laid the groundwork for her love of all things British. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689711817.jpgThe Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg (1967)Probably the favorite book from elementary school for each of us. Running away to live in a museum in NYC? Sign us up. For those of you needing a plot overview, not just a reminder of this fabulous book, in this book, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, and in doing so does not run from somewhere, she runs to somewhere–a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant — the Met. And, in a very smart move, she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780141321066.jpgThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett (1911) – In this novel, orphaned Mary Lennox is sent to her uncle’s mansion on the Yorkshire Moors. There she finds many secrets, including a dormant garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. This was perhaps the first book to show us both the beauty of England, as well as the possibilities of special places and unlikely friendships. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780679824114.jpgThe Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborn (assorted years) – The audio book versions of these early chapter books have saved many a car trip with kids.  The paper versions are excellent first chapter books for emerging readers. And the main characters – Jack and Annie – will provide your early readers with hours of friendship and adventure as they use their time-traveling treehouse. As adults, you may learn a thing or two about history as well. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780544022805.jpgThe Wednesday Wars (2007) and OK For Now (2011) by Gary Schmidt (For those of us of a certain age, it is hard to believe the the 1960s and 1970s are being taught in our schools as history instead of as current events. But they are. These two books provide an excellent introduction to this era and some of the topics of the 60s and 70s – Vietnam, the women’s movement, environmentalism. They also tackle school bullies, poverty, joblessness, great teachers and hope. Both provide memorable characters in extremely moving moments. Both were award winners – OK For Now  was a National Book Award Finalist and The Wednesday Wars was a Newberry Honor Book.

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic of 1960 to the United States, and because they are suspected of opposing Trujillo, the government’s secret police terrorize those left behind. A fictional version of Ms. Alvarez’s experiences as a child in the DR, this book reminds us all of what it feels like to not feel safe in your own home and how important the promise of a new life somewhere else are to those who need hope.


A few for Young adults

FC9780446677554.jpgCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2000) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, and charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream. But it also showcases the power of sports to change lives. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (First reviewed in But the News…)

FC9780307389732.jpgLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988) – Long ago in Colombia Florentino Ariza, a poet meets and falls forever in love with Fermina Daza. She marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino does not give up easily and decides to wait as long as he has to until Fermina is free. This ends up as 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later, when suddenly, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies, chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The tale is then told in flashbacks to the time of cholera and then again in present time.  The words are perfect, the plot unforgettable and the novel one you will not regret picking up. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780375759314.jpgCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987) – This novel follows the lives and aspirations of two couples as they move between Vermont and Wisconsin.  The prose quietly propels you through with compassion and majesty, providing incredible insight into friendship and marriage. (We acknowledge we may be a bit biased due to the Vermont connection, but Mr. Stegner’s prose is phenomenal.) ~ Lisa Cadow (seconded by Lisa Christie)

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride when Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he thinks killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. ~ Lisa Christie (First reviewed in FEARS: Part Two)

FC9780380778553.jpgRebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature.  ~ Lisa Cadow (Reviewed in Fiction Lovers – a few classics)

FC9780140186390-1.jpgEast of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – While Grapes of Wrath (1939) is probably assigned more often by English teachers everywhere, this book reads like a soap opera told in excellent prose. I also think that one can learn all the nuances of good and evil from this tale of Mr. Steinbeck. And I can say that almost 40 years later, I still remember how I felt reading this book as a teen. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780767901260.jpgA Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind (1998) – Using actual people, this book clearly illustrates the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods. As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Mr. Suskind followed a few students in a high school in a struggling, drug-riddled neighborhood in Washington, D.C. for a few years to see what happens to students in schools that lack the resources to effectively serve them. The true story of one of these students, the heart of this book, will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780671792763.jpgBrave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1991) – Gorgeous, insightful, interesting and diverse essays populate this collection. We promise you will learn something and the diversity of the subjects (e.g., life in DC, building of the Brooklyn Bridge, Harriet Beecher Stowe, pioneer aviators like Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham, and Anne Lindbergh, what Presidents do in retirement) means that there is something in this collection for every reader. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780307278449.jpgThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – WOW, what insight into so many things can be found in this slim volume. Told in multiple, sometimes contradictory, interlocking stories, Ms. Morrison explores Whiteness as the common standard of beauty, the power of stories for survival, and sexual abuse. We don’t think you will forget this tale anytime soon. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780446310789.jpgTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – The amazing Mrs. McPherson (yes teachers, you are remembered years later) introduced my eighth grade English class to this classic — one which resonated so well as a 12-year-old and continues to awe me (and thousands of others) today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780141040349.jpgFC9781607105558.jpgPride and Prejudice (1813) and Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen – Just good books. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie


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Last Tuesday we published Part I of our list of books to help us all have conversations about difficult topics. Today, we tackle Part II. Both parts are in response to a recent conversation during which one of our teens lamented, “Why can’t I have parents who don’t talk about uncomfortable things?”, a conversation that has us thinking — How does one develop comfort talking about uncomfortable topics?

Our answer, of course, is reading great books helps get these conversations started. So today, we are again recommending more books to help you think, and ideally talk, about some uncomfortable topics – this time race, grief, sexual identity, gun violence, and politics (with another bonus book for mental health already tackled in Part I). May they all lead to great conversations



FC9781555977412.jpgGrief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter (2015) – Imagine a 5-foot-tall bird knocking you over when you answer your front door. This is not only how we are introduced to the book’s actual avian character “Crow” but also how the author invites us to think about the power of grief. This very original novella provides a snapshot of the year following the sudden death of a young family’s mother and wife. At once poetic and profound, it is a journey through loss and healing. It is beautifully written, funny, immensely sad, and true. Fans of the poet Ted Hughes will appreciate the frequent references to his work. I missed this when it was first published in 2015 and am grateful for the wise friend who put his feather-light masterpiece into my hands. ~Lisa Cadow


Sex and Sexual identity

FC9781629560892.jpgSexploitation by Cindy Pierce (2015) – Ms. Pierce tackles the issues surrounding the fact that today’s teens are immersed in porn culture everywhere they look — Internet porn, gaming, social media, marketing, and advertising. This exposure means that teens today have a much broader view of social and sexual possibilities, making it difficult to establish appropriate expectations or to feel adequate about their own sexuality. This book will help you talk to the teens in your life about sex and more. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780763668723.jpg It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris (2014) – A SUPERB book for pre-teens. Provides excellent fodder for conversations if you read it together. We sincerely hope it helps your family discuss sex as much as it helped ours. Thank you Dr. Lyons, and White River Family Practice. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780618871711.jpgFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2007 – We hope someone does a ten year anniversary edition soon) – This graphic memoir by Vermont’s own Ms. Bechdel bravely tackles how sexual identity is formed, the costs of suppression, and well, “coming of age” for lack of a better phrase. We also highly recommend the Tony Award winning Broadway play now on tour in the USA~ Lisa Christie


Mental Health

FC9781592407323.jpgMarbles by Ellen Forney (2012) – Forney’s brilliant account of her experience with bipolar does not shy away from sharing  intimate details in her life from the diagnosis of this condition in adulthood, to her exhausting manic episodes (including hypersexuality), to the long struggle to manage her multiple medications. She grapples deeply with whether or not she needs the bipolar to feed her artistic creativity and how it has effected other artists throughout history. This unique format invites readers to engage with subject matter through pictures and images. I find graphic novels actually help me to remember stories more vividly, the words pictures lodging themselves differently in my memory than mere words. This memoir does a great service by educating readers about a prevalent condition and expands the conversation about mental heath support in our society. Excellent, excellent for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow



FC9781501126352.jpgThe Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward – Ms. Ward, a 2017 McArthur Genius award winner, recently collected a essays from prominent authors of color on race in the USA. A great way to approach how the color of your skin affects your lived experiences. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780307278449.jpgThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – Probably one of the most powerful fictional books about life inside black skin we have read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie



Gun Violence

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride when Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he thinks killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. ~ Lisa Christie



FC9780062300546.jpgHillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2016) – This was first recommended by DAILY UV founder Rob Gurwitt during the Holiday 2016 Pages in the Pub, this best-selling memoir by a prominent conservative thinker Vance. In his six-word review Rob said – An afflicted, troublesome America, piercingly explained. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780062684929-1.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from a MSNBC and MBC reporter who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780393608717.jpgThe Long Haul by Finn Murphy (2017) – A trucker offers insights into life on the road, the intersection of blue collar and white collar work over a moving van and observations of how humans interact in the USA. Mr. Murphy’s perspective is rather unique to American literature, and one that may help us think more often about the people on the other side of the border (states, or jobs or..). ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Displays at the Norwich Bookstore and the Norwich Public Library during last month’s Banned Books Week reminded us that many beloved books would not have reached us had banning succeeded. Thus, we write today’s post in gratitude for those librarians, booksellers, parents, and teachers who keep banned books circulating. And now, we review SOME (and only some) of our favorite banned books. (Honestly, the lists of what has been banned are pretty incredible and this post could continue for awhile if we had more space, and you had more time.)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Cover ImageThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003) – This book was banned due to “profanity and atheism”. We caught the profanity when we read it, and didn’t really blink. But somehow,when we think back to enjoying this book, we can’t remember the atheism. What we do remember is a compelling main character who reminded us that being different can be a gift, and that disabilities challenge but also are only part of what makes people amazing. We are grateful this book made it to our reading shelves. And, we know of quite a few lovers of Broadway shows who are grateful as well.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Cover ImageFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) – The banned book site states Fun Home is most often challenged due to “violence and graphic images”.  This information produced chuckles because Fun Home is a “graphic” memoir. We also chuckled often while actually reading this memoir because Ms. Bechdel treats the fraught material of her childhood with humor and grace.  We understand some readers may be squeamish about her unabashed look at suicide, homosexuality, and other themes. But honestly, we believe any squeamishness reinforces the need to read this poignant novel. We note that Broadway also loved this book. Suddenly, we sense a theme in this post — wish to create an award winning play? Adapt a banned book.

The Bluest Eye Cover ImageThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1994) – This book makes one of the Lisas all time best book lists; so, banning it feels personal. We have a hard time understanding how a novel exploring how racism makes a girl wish she had a different color skin could possibly be anything other than enlightening. However, The Bluest Eye is often banned due to “sexually explicit” material, and “containing controversial issues”.  We say bring on the controversy and learn.

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This all-time “must read” for the Book Jam Lisas is often banned due to “offensive language and racism”.  To this we counter, isn’t talking about (and eliminating racism) the point of this book?

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Cover ImageNickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) – This book is banned due to its “political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”.  We argue that reading something written by those who don’t share your political views is worthwhile, and perhaps especially helpful during this US election year. More importantly however, we argue this book about Ms. Ehrenreich’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a minimum wage is a must read for anyone making policy, employing people, renting apartments to people, doctoring those without insurance, etc…

Of Mice and Men Cover ImageOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) This was banned “due to offensive language, racism, violence”. We love it for its ability to inspire sobs in a few pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 1) Cover ImageHarry Potter series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – Banned “due to satanism”; somehow we missed the satanic references while reading this series. Perhaps we were having too much fun with the magic and the lessons of friendship, loyalty, and standing up to bullies (after all what is Voldemort but an extreme bully?). We are grateful that these books survived banning so that thousands of children around the world could learn that reading is fun.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry  by Mildred Taylor (1976) – This Newbery Award winning classic makes the banned lists “due to offensive language”. We feel learning from this story and the abuse suffered by the main characters due to their skin color overshadow any offensive language. We also believe the banners definitely missed the fact this book provides an intimate look at life in the USA as an African American girl.

Well, we could keep going; but, we will stop here, with one quick closing thought. While we love the fact everyone uses reviews and recommendations to determine what books to consume (hopefully, the Book Jam helps you with this), we truly abhor the idea of someone deciding that controversial books will be unavailable to anyone rather than merely reviewed. So, thank you again to all those educators out there who ensure books remain on shelves to influence all of us.

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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.

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.

Bottomland Cover Image

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.

To the Lighthouse Cover ImagePlainsong Cover ImageBeloved Cover Image

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.

Salvage the Bones Cover ImageMonument Road Cover ImageThe Heart Goes Last Cover ImageA Cure for Suicide Cover Image

The Incarnations Cover ImageHarriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders Cover ImageStones in the Road Cover ImageHalf in Love with Death Cover Image

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 we approach African American/Black History Month with curiosity and questions. In addition to pondering why only one month is devoted to contributions of African Americans, we are embracing February’s heightened attention to contributions of African Americans as an opportunity to review GREAT books by Black authors. One is considered a classic; others are brand new, some somewhat new. One is geared to kids, others for adults, and one for young adults. But, we recommend them all. (We also revisited our past year of reviews to see how well we represented the diversity of race and culture that books offer us. Details of our annual audit are at the end of this post.)



God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (paperback January, 2016). A  story about the power of parenting and its unforeseen effects on our children (and society). I have only read Beloved so am a relative newcomer to the power of Morrison’s prose. This story is the only one of Morrison’s books to be set in the modern day yet it has a timeless, almost parable-like quality to it. It centers on two main characters, young lovers Bride and Booker, both in their 20’s, whose life paths and current missteps have been and continue to be affected by the events of the actions of their parents.  We meet them in glitzy, bustling LA but follow them to a quiet, obscure town in northern California that provides a backdrop for painful truths to emerge. Morrison addresses the subject of racism within the black community as well as the epidemic of sexual abuse within our society. There are, however, themes of hope, new life, and healing woven in throughout. Not an easy read but an important one.~ Lisa Cadow

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1975) – Somehow I missed reading this classic in my youth, which is why I am so glad my 4th grader chose this book for our current read-aloud. While the subject matter is tear-inducing, this ten-year-old and I are enjoying this well told tale of a loving family living through horrific relations among black and white populations in a rural town. In fact, my son keeps comparing this novel to Stella By Starlight, another book we read aloud about “messed up” (as my teen would say) race relations that I highly recommend (reviewed on my ongoing reading list). He also connected this book to what he heard on the news during the past year, resulting in many great conversations. ~ Lisa Christie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (2015). On page ten of this succinct, accessible manifesto, Adichie already has readers laughing out loud when she describes herself as  “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men”. Full of disarming humor, this book invites serious discussion about a term (feminist) that is challenging to unpack the world over – whether you live in Nigeria or New York. Adichie raises lots of “What if’s?” about the future, ponders the present, and tells stories of her own family and upbringing in Africa. This work was inspired by a a TEDx talk Adichie delivered in 2006. If you would like to see it, watch here. Please share the it – and the book – with your daughter, your son, everyone. ~ Lisa Cadow (Lisa Christie wholeheartedly seconds this review)

Black Man in a White Coat by Tweedy Damon, MD (2015) – “It’s up to us, as doctors, to find the commonalities and respect the differences between us and our patients,” Dr. Tweedy writes. This examination of a black man’s medical education and subsequent service as a doctor offers insight, honesty, and questions about the role of race in America today. I enjoyed every self-reflective moment of being with Dr. Damon in his memoir; may all my doctors embody his compassion. (This would make a great gift for the medical students/doctors in your life.) As a NYTimes review of this book states, “on one level the book is a straightforward memoir; on another it’s a thoughtful, painfully honest, multi-angled, constant self-interrogation about himself and about the health implications of being black in a country where blacks are more likely than other groups to suffer from, for instance, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure and cancer.” ~ Lisa Christie

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Two authors, one black and one white, were placed together on a book tour. As a result, they became friends as they bonded over their sadness/dismay/anger over what was happening to black teens in the USA (i.e., Trayvon Martin, Ferguson). As a result of their need to make sense of what they were seeing and to help, they created this book – their view of an incident in which a young black man is beaten by a white cop. The tale is told in alternating chapters and voices – one voice being the black male who was beaten and the other a white teen who witnessed the beating. Nothing is as simple as it seems, but the voices feel real, and I love the idea of these two authors collaborating on such an important issue. This novel also reminded me of another book I loved and highly recommend – Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, reviewed on the Book Jam last June~ Lisa Christie


We end today’s recommendations with a review of how broad a selection of authors we have featured since last February’s diversity audit. We found that during the past twelve months, we reviewed books by 140 authors. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” and “Guest Author” posts as we do not choose those all of those books.)  Slightly over half (59%) of the authors we featured were women, 37% were men, and 4% were written by groups of authors or organizations such as Lonely Planet. A majority of the authors we featured (77%) were white, with 23% authors of color. Overall, 15% of the authors we featured were nonwhite Africans or African Americans, 4% Hispanics, and 2% Asians. Geographically speaking, we featured almost all the continents, with 56% of featured authors hailing from the USA, 33% from Europe, 7% from Canada, 3% from Australia, and 2% from Africa.

To sum, we can and will do better featuring authors of color.


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We recently gave an older, but favorite, novel to a friend as part of her 40th birthday gift (the gift – one book from each of the decades of a friend’s life). Her review — “I am reading this slowly, as I do not want it to end“, reminded us of how much we loved reading this book for the first time. And that remembrance has us thinking about books we wish we could read again for the first time, or at least re-read if we had time. So, we now share a few treasured picks from our past. We hope that if you have missed any of these, you will soon have the pleasure of reading some or ideally all of them for the first time.

Stones from the River by Urusla Hegi (1997) – One of my favorite books of all time, Stones from the River is an epic story of World War I and II. Trudi, a “zwerg”- or a dwarf – is one of the most memorable characters in recent literature. Her journey, and that of her village, helps the reader to understand more deeply the tragic period of history in Germany. As one reviewer put it: “this is a nightmare journey with an unforgettable guide.” ~ Lisa Cadow

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – I think I learned all the nuances of good and evil from this book. I definitely remember loving every page-turning moment so much that I stayed up all night reading it at some point in High School. ~ Lisa Christie

Room by Emma Donoghue (2010) – It’s not that I would want to enter this literal “room” again, the one the two main characters inhabit in isolation, but rather it is the sheer brilliance of this story told by the narrator, five year old Jack, that makes me want to return. This book reminds us of the resiliency of the human spirit. It also is a major motion picture; so hurry up and read the book first. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – This wasn’t a book that I expected to enjoy, but I gave it a whirl it because so many different types of readers recommended it. It offers a great tour through rock and roll, introduces a motley crew of characters, and provides a rollicking cultural ride through the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. By the way, it won the Pulitzer in 2011.~ Lisa Cadow (ditto Lisa Christie) 

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Its prose is lyrical; its story is relatable; and, its setting is the sublime shores of a mythic country in Latin America.  I read it while suffering from my first (yes, there were a few more to come) broken heart. It helped somehow. Please pick it up if you have not already read this classic. ~ Lisa Christie

Let the Great World Spin by Collum McCann (2009) – A friend recommended this to me after her book club read it, and I am grateful she did. I loved McCann’s poetic description of life in NYC through the stories of apparently unrelated New Yorkers. I am also grateful that this book introduced me to a new “favorite” author.  I would love to be able to read this again for the first time, but instead I highly recommend it to you. And, while you read this, I will enjoy his latest collection of short stories – Thirteen Ways of Looking~ Lisa Christie

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (1991) – I wish I had this book to start again for the very first time. The reader lands in China in the 1920’s and emerges again breathless and changed 500 pages later in modern 1970’s China. Wild Swans is the true story of three generations of Chinese women, told by granddaughter, Jung, who is now living in the US. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – Read as part of a graduate school course on multiculturalism. The amazing insights into so many things regarding race and life that are packed in this slim volume have haunted me ever since. ~ Lisa Christie

Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith (1994) – I saw this play in Boston, and then read the book in order to think a bit more about racial relations.  A version of this amazing theater production is available on PBS, but it also makes for a great read. ~ Lisa Christie

In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Tana French is one of my great author heroines. She crafts a riveting mystery with a literary pen and a psychological mind that keeps you on the edge of your seat and all the while learning about the complexity of human behavior. It’s fascinating to slip into her world and into modern day Ireland. In the Woods is her first book, so it holds a special place on my shelf. ~ Lisa Cadow

Hunting and Gathering (2007) – Time spent with this group of Parisians is well spent. When I read this in 2008, it was the first book in a long time that left me feeling happy about the world when I finished it. And since it was recommended to me by Lisa Cadow, we recommend it again here. ~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night (1942) by Beryl Markham- This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie



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The Book Jam is of two minds about African-American history month.  On the one hand, any excuse to delve further into books by amazing authors who are African-American (see Toni Morrison) is a reason to rejoice.  On the other hand, we do not want to seem belittling by focusing on African-American history just because it is February.  And, since one of our sons (who technically is Latino) is identifying as a Black boy, we are especially cognizant of the complicated issues this month brings to light.

Martin Luther King Jr.Civil Rights MovementBlack History FactsAfrican-American Soldiers in the Civil WarHarriet TubmanMarch on WashingtonFreedom Rides

We also recognize that as white women, we can not ever know what it is like to be Black in the USA.  However, we believe as recent well-publicized research about reading has shown, good fiction has the power to transform and teach.  So in that light, and, since The Book Jam often features books by or about African-Americans and/or Africa, we are choosing to look at February as another excuse to highlight more great fiction and nonfiction options by and about African-Americans. May we all learn something. 

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid (2014) – I sincerely hope any Oprah nay-sayers are ready to overlook her pick of this book for her book club.  If you dismiss this novel just because she chose it, you will miss out on a great story. Besides, we honestly believe that any book that helps you understand the day-to-day plight of African-American slaves and the forming of two important American abolitionists is worth your precious reading time.  The narration mostly takes place in Charleston, SC and alternates between the voices of a young woman slave owner and of her young slave.  The prose by the best selling author of The Secret Life of Bees keeps you turning the pages, the characters are interesting, and few of the relationships are simple – which makes you think.  What I most loved about this book — both of the narrators are based upon actual people from history. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (2013) – Yes, that John Lewis, the Congressman and the man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has (with two collaborators) written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Told in flashback as a story relayed to two young constituents who came to visit his Capital Hill offices on the morning of Barack Obama’s first inauguration, this book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and into his student activist days in Nashville.  The pictures perfectly explore how his life must have felt at the time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  According to the authors, the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March proves as inspiring to future leaders.  We are so glad we found this book (thanks to our town’s children’s librarian), and are truly looking forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations Edited by Retha Powers and Henry Louis Gates (2013) – Perfect for anyone interested in history, famous individuals or words of wisdom.  Five thousand (although we took the editors’ word for that number and did not count them) quotes are pulled — covering such diverse time frames as Ancient Egypt, American slavery, the Civil Rights Era, Apartheid, and today. With a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and passages from authors, artists, scientists, philosophers, theologians, activists, politicians, this volume places quotes from Aesop’s Fables and the Holy Bible beside the words of Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou and Jay-Z. How many books can claim that? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

And yes, we reviewed these last year, but we believe they are worth mentioning again –

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – it makes you laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Bradley (2011) – A book for children and the adults in their lives.  In this book, three young slaves, two of them President Jefferson’s own children fathered with his slave Sally Hemings, tell their stories of life at Monticello.  Their voices highlight the contradiction between slavery and freedom, and illustrate the USA’s struggles while the Founding Fathers still lived and worked.  As such, the USA’s history unfolds from a typically unseen perspective. ~ Lisa Christie

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