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Posts Tagged ‘Willa Cather’

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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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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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Research shows that reading novels and other literature helps readers better understand other perspectives and increases the reader’s own social navigation abilities.  An October 2013 NY Times article discussing the studies stated researchers “found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.” While we agree what the study uncovered ample self-improvement reasons for picking up some great fiction, we believe that many pieces of classical literature are also just darn good stories. So in this post we share some of our favorite classics — many read long, long ago. And we implore you, please don’t think of the classics as something you HAD to read in High School; read them for the great books that they are. Rebecca 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. Do you know what it is? ~ Lisa Cadow Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Though lesser known than One Hundred Years of Solitude, this novel is my favorite of the two. Its premise distills to a basic question — what if it were possible, not only to promise to love someone ”forever,” but to actually do so, to actually make all life’s choices based upon this vow? Set in an unnamed Caribbean town, the three characters, Florentino, Fermina and Dr. Urbino form the love triangle at the center of the author’s answers to this question. Florentino, after declaring his undying love for Fermina as a teen, is not at all deterred when she marries Dr. Urbino, and vows to wait until she is free. This happens 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later (yes, I had to look this detail up), when suddenly, (in a way only Garcia Marquez can pull off) Dr. Urbino dies while chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The novel explores all three of their lives in real time, in retrospect, with some magic realism (of course), and through the prism of this promise to love forever. ~ Lisa Christie My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – This novel unwraps the difficulties facing the Shimerdas, recent immigrants to America’s midwest, as narrated by a boy who met the family on a train taking them all to the same Nebraska town to live. While the hardships are harrowing, and the situations faced by both major and minor characters truly dire, the novel somehow manages to be both quiet and reassuring. It is a practical, well-crafted, not at all romantic look at the resilience of the human spirit and the hardiness of the many European immigrants who came across the ocean to begin again in America’s west. As such, this story is important, but more importantly, it is a very good story. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942)  – Originally published in 1942, West with the Night still reads as if it was hot off the presses. This breathtaking memoir tells the story of the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, penned by an author who was described by Ernest Hemingway as someone who “can write rings around all of us.” Markham was an adventurer, a poet, a philosopher, and a free spirit to her core who has served as an inspiration to generations of women. Her first loves were the horses she trained in east Africa as a teen. After discovering aviation, however, she never looked down. From 1931 to 1936 Markham delivered mail from her plane to remote locations in east Africa before heading north, across the Mediterranean, and then eventually across the Atlantic. If you liked Out of Africa, you will love this book. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam on March 27, 2012)  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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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”.

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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 both attend these special author events and read their books.

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Today, we feature Victoria Fish author of A Brief Moment of Weightlessness, a collection of short stories. In addition to writing short stories, and blogging about life, Ms. Fish is pursuing her Masters of Social Work. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Hunger Mountain, Slow Trains, Wild River Review, and Literary Mama. She lives with her husband and three boys in our hometown in Vermont. A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is her first published book.

Ms. Fish will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 25th to discuss her book and her work. Reservations are recommended. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to reserve your seat. We have heard it is close to “selling out” so call soon.

 

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

The Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green. My Antonia, by Willa Cather. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner.  All three of these books took me beyond my known world, while at the same time, almost miraculously, connected me with my own experiences of joy and wonder and loss. Books like these that both create a sense of yearning and a sense of finding make me want to write.

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

Mary Ladd Gavell, the author of I Cannot Tell A Lie Exactly.  Gavell died at the age of 47, having only published one story. That story, posthumously, was chosen by John Updike as one of the Best Short Stories of the Century, and, after that her children published a book of her stories. She writes about motherhood (and other topics) with understated poignancy, honesty and wit. There is one story called “The Swing” about a mother who imagines that her son, now in his 30’s, visits the backyard at night as a 6 year old boy again. I cannot get through that story without crying, every time, sideswiped anew with how she writes with such simplicity and power about intangible loss. I want to ask her, how did she do it? What else would she have written if she hadn’t died?

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

Mrs. Somebody Somebody, stories by Tracy Winn. Runaway, stories by Alice Munro. Red Bird: Poems, poems by Mary Oliver. I have read all three, but I always keep a few books like this to dip into again and again, words I know will satisfy me.

 

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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 and read their books.

This post features Marianne Szegedy-Maszak author of I Kiss Your Hands: Hearts, Souls, and Wars in Hungary, her first book.  Ms. Szegedy-Maszak’s journalism career has spanned over twenty-five years and has included covering the collapse of communism, the Republican Revolution, 9/11 and social policy for the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Harpers Bazaar, and many more.

Ms. Szegedy-Maszak will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 9th to discuss her work. Reservations are recommended. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to reserve your seat.

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

Always difficult to narrow things down to threes, when there is such a rich and wonderful collection of influences. One of the first and most influential books for me was Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills. It was a book that grew out of his brilliant coverage in Esquire of Nixon’s campaign and I was a senior in high school when I read it and at that moment knew I wanted to be a journalist. The depth of insight, the richness of his writing, and the way he brought his formidable intellect to bear on covering this tragic president– before Watergate– was astonishing.

I remember reading Speak Memory by Nabokov, a memoir of his life in Czarist Russia right at the twilight of an era, with a little notebook and every once in a while I would just copy a sentence or a phrase. The details and the fluidity of memory that he captured by focusing on the most minute, superficially trivial details taught me that in memoir, it is so often about the trees, not the forest.

My Antonia by Willa Cather is a book that always brings a little lump in my throat when I think about it. Cather wrote with such astonishing simplicity in the voice of a young man, a slightly unreliable narrator, who nonetheless kept me suspended between his internal life and the world all around him. She had such total confidence as a writer, every word rings true, nothing is extraneous from physical to emotional details. After the more rococo prose of Wills and Nabokov, Cather is the cool drink of water.

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

I struggled to avoid being a Rebecca Mead copy-cat, but unfortunately I have to admit, that I would love to have a cup of coffee (or perhaps tea, or perhaps a good strong drink) with Mary Ann Evans, also known as George Eliot.  I loved Middlemarch, of course, always preferred her to Jane Austen (whose charms, I fear, elude me), but it is not just because Eliot is such a brilliant writer, or because she is so deftly political, but because she could be such an expert guide to a life lived both conventionally and very much on the margins.

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

I was looking at that cluttered table and am a bit embarrassed by how many are there. The books on my nightstand are both reproaches and thrilling invitations. In no particular order (you can imagine the stack):

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