2009 Highlights: Literary Meandering and More
Bookreporter.com's Book of the Year: THE HELP
Holiday Basket of Cheer: Win a Dozen Books
Book Club Longevity: The Traveling Band of Readers
What makes a reading group stay together for an incredible two decades, or longer? Last month we introduced five book clubs that have marked the 20-year milestone.
Today we talk with Gillian Jones about her Southern California reading group --- what has kept them meeting for so many years, how their camaraderie extends beyond their book club boundaries, how they got their intriguing name and much more. "Our group is an important part of my life," says Gillian. "I love the opportunity to read and share thoughts on the wide variety of books that we read."
Previous Book Club Longevity Interviews:
V&C (Vulture and Culture)
Farmington Woods Book Group
Thursday Night Book Club
Reading in Kansas
ReadingGroupGuides.com: How long has your book club been meeting, and how was it formed?
Our particular book group has been in existence for almost 20 years. I have been a member for the past twelve years. We are a group of about 15 women with an original connection of the Cajon Valley School district, near San Diego, where many of us worked in various capacities, from teachers to office managers to administrators. Since then our group has grown to include other assorted friends and connections. Several of our members are of the core group of originators. We meet monthly for wine, pizza, salad, dessert and book discussion.
Over the years we have read a wide variety of books of all genres. Sometimes one book leads us to another: same author, same topic, same genre etc. We have met and talked with authors, in person and via phone conference. We have traveled to Italy and France together, holding our monthly meetings on the road and choosing books set in countries we visit. Hence our name: The Traveling Band of Readers.
Each member chooses a book in turn for reading and discussion. Oftentimes these are choices we might not personally have considered. Discussions have been rousing and stimulating; opinions divided; personal stories inspired by our reading have been shared.RGG: To what do you attribute the longevity of your book club?
I think our longevity as a group attests to our collective love of reading and admiration and respect for writing and writers. To discuss the diverse selection of books we read is something we all cherish and look forward to each month. We enjoy each other's company, and often socialize, hike, travel, etc outside book group.RGG: What advice do you have for other groups who would like to make it to the 20-year mark?
My advice to other groups would be to maintain a regular meeting schedule. Set up a web based calendar and site for members to access. Someone should, ideally, be in charge of maintaining group communications and an ongoing catalog of books chosen. Devise a format and etiquette for the meetings: for example, take turns hosting the meeting and choosing the book of the month; the current hostess begins the discussion by explaining her reasons for choosing the book; then all members take turns sharing opinions and comments. Have refreshments: keep the menu simple and consistent, e.g. pizza, salad, wine, dessert. Socialize first and then move on to the book discussion. Stay on task and restrict the meeting to a couple of hours.RGG: Tell us about a memorable book discussion or meeting.
Although there have been many memorable book discussions in our group, one that made a particularly strong impact on me was when Judy Bernstein, the co-author of They Poured Fire On Us from the Sky
, attended our group's meeting and talked about her experience writing the book with three young Sudanese refugees. She brought maps and video clips to explain the evolution of the current political situation in the Sudan; the unbelievably harrowing experiences these young men had endured; how she had become their sponsor through her involvement in an international aid organization when they arrived in San Diego; and how she had encouraged and helped them to write their very moving, personal saga.
After the meeting, Judy donated books and videotaped background information to me for my students which have since become a powerful source of intense interest and a revelation to my 8th graders: arousing their empathy, provoking discussion and instilling awareness of the enormity of the challenges these young refugees have faced; besides also engendering an increased appreciation for the advantages and opportunities which education and life in America can afford. In addition, many group members donated their books for my classroom, as they often do, to support my students by encouraging an interest in meaningful reading experiences.
As is typical of our book group experiences, this led several weeks later to some of us attending a recital of Shakespearean sonnets at the San Diego Old Globe theatre where Alephonsion Deng, one of the Sudanese Lost Boys and one of the authors of the book, had been invited to give a performance of two sonnets to the accompaniment of a traditional Sudanese instrument. Afterwards, we were privileged to talk with him about the book and learn more about his incredible journey.
This is just one of many examples of how our book selections often continue to resonate in our lives far beyond the monthly meetings.
Juliette Fay: A Gift Horse of a Different Color
For author Juliette Fay, there are many highlights of the holiday season --- Christmas carols, festive decorations, egg nog. But as she shares in today's guest blog post, there is one aspect she's not so enamored with. (Visit Bookreporter.com to read more writers' stories about holiday giving and getting.)
How do you and your book members celebrate the season? Do you exchange gifts or have a holiday tradition? We'd love to know, so please share it in the comments section.
Juliette is the author of the novel Shelter Me about newly widowed Janie and how her late husband's plan to surprise her with a new porch becomes a vitally important last gift. It's a story she had "been thinking about for years," says Juliette. "As porch construction progresses, Janie learns to create a new shelter from the ruins of her old life, now buttressed by support from unexpected sources."
I think I have giftlexia. Or would it be dysgiftia? I can express love and appreciation in lots of ways, but gifts are definitely not my strong suit.
I have friends whom I consider gift savants --- seemingly born with the uncanny ability to take one look at a person and know exactly what might fulfill deep, barely conscious wishes. They get me things I never would've considered, and now use constantly --- an interesting candle holder, a really comfortable hat, funky earrings that were not "me" until I tried them on, and suddenly they were so "me" I wondered how the earrings and I had existed separately for so long.
The above-mentioned aside, I have to admit I'm secretly not the best at receiving gifts either. I'm polite, I say a sincere thank you, I try to behave as if this thing I was given is the greatest thing ever...because sometimes it is. But sometimes it isn't, and the world is already so full of unnecessary trinkets and do-dads and stuff. I truly appreciate the gesture, but I'd be just as happy with a heartfelt note.
So, with the holidays galloping toward us, presents to buy and receive, and the inevitable proliferation of unimaginable ton-loads of stuff, my stress level is beginning to rise...
Our family celebrates Christmas, and I sincerely love everything about it --- the rich piney smell of the tree in the living room, new renditions of old Christmas carols, decorating the house with both the lovely ornaments and the unlovely ones that have nonetheless made their way into family lore and tradition. I love egg nog. I love thinking of Mary, pregnant and poor, giving birth in a barn, and knowing even still, that it was all worth it.
But I can't make myself love the gift part.
People with learning disabilities develop skills to compensate for what their brains don't do easily. Similarly, I employ about half a dozen little coping mechanisms: starting early, making lists, making my family members make lists, asking other people what they're buying for their loved ones. I blast my ungiftishness with all the power of my organizational skills which, I modestly admit, are mighty. I go out there, and I shop and check off lists and fill in my spreadsheet --- yes, I have a spreadsheet, as absurd as that sounds, and it's like a security blanket. I look at my spreadsheet, creating order out of gift chaos, and I'm tempted to suck my thumb.
On Christmas morning, I will anxiously await my family's reactions to all this effort in the same way I anticipated exam results when I was in school. Did I pass? Did I get an A? And before we all go into the living room to hand out the loot, I'll insist to myself that it doesn't matter. They know I love them. And soon it will be January and I can return to the ways that I'm good at showing them. Until then, I'll try to remember that Mary had nothing but herself to give her baby, and that was most certainly good enough.
Susan Kandel: Hitchcock and Christmas Dinner
Susan Kandel traded her job as an art critic to write a mystery series featuring Cece Caruso --- California girl, biographer of dead mystery authors and amateur sleuth. Her latest whodunit is Dial H for Hitchcock. Today's guest blogger, Susan shares some insights into the research process (which involves reading books and watching movies) and what she'll be serving for Christmas dinner.
The holiday season is upon us, and my thoughts have turned toward murder. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that certain members of my family are making a visit. I like all of them. Truly. And what could be more cheerful than a crackling fire, a house full of hungry people and a refrigerator packed with the season's butter-basted and Crisco-enlivened foodstuffs?
No, murder is on my mind not merely at Christmastime, but year-round: as the crocuses bloom in springtime, as I wiggle my feet in the sand during the dog days of August, with autumn's turning of the leaves (yes, in Southern California), on frigid November nights, when the temperature dips down to a torturous 58 degrees. This is because I write a mystery series, and murder is my business.
My series centers on a sexy, eternally fortyish, vintage clothes-obsessed closet brainiac named Cece Caruso. A former Miss Asbury Park (her beauty queen career was thankfully short-lived), Cece's day job consists of writing biographies of dead mystery authors such as Erle Stanley Gardner, Carolyn Keene, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock. In the course of her research, Cece invariably turns up a dead body, and has to figure out whodunit before somebody else gets bludgeoned/stabbed/shot/poisoned/shoved off the edge of a cliff.
While I have yet to turn up a dead body, I do devote myself to research, precisely as if I were biographer Cece. This means that before I do my writing, I do a great deal of reading: Perry Mason novels, Nancy Drew novels, Sam Spade novels, Hercule Poirot novels; critical, literary and historical essays about these works; biographies and autobiographies about their creators. The research process is extremely important, not only because this is where I get the factual information woven through each of my books, but also, because the research provides me with my plots.
While researching Not a Girl Detective
, for example, I discovered that Russell Tandy, the illustrator of the original Nancy Drew dust jackets from the 1930s, was an old drinking buddy of Salvador Dali's. That irresistible fact formed the cornerstone of the book, which involved a mysterious missing portrait of Nancy in the buff (I made that part up). In researching Christietown
, I learned about Christie's mysterious eleven-day disappearance in December of 1926, and Cece's "explanation" of what transpired during those fateful days wound up determining the twists and turns of that book's intricate plot.
With my latest Cece Caruso mystery, Dial H for Hitchcock
, the research process was more prolonged than usual. That is because in addition to my usual reading, I spent many contented hours watching the Master of Suspense's films and catching up on episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents
I'd missed the first time around.
Let me tell you about my favorite episode from the TV series. "Lamb to the Slaughter" is one of only seventeen episodes actually directed by Hitch. Written by the diabolical Roald Dahl, it stars Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie from Dallas) as Mary Malone, a pregnant housewife told by her cheating spouse that he wants a divorce. Infuriated, Mary sneaks up behind her hubby with a leg of lamb and delivers a fatal whack to his head. Mary then cooks the leg of lamb and feeds it to the policemen investigating the murder, cleverly dispatching with the murder weapon. Score one for the ladies.
"Back for Christmas" is another unforgettable episode, which involves a husband killing his wife and burying her body in the basement. I'd recommend it for family holiday viewing, accompanied by festive snacks such as chocolate-dipped pretzel rods and frosty mugs of egg nog. But maybe you shouldn't trust me. I had totally forgotten what Hitch's The Birds
was like, and let my nine-year old daughter watch it with me, after describing it as having lots of animals in it, sort of like 101 Dalmations
And what will you be serving your guests for Christmas dinner?
I've decided on a nice leg of lamb.
Join us---if you dare.
Leila Cobo: My Mother’s Gift
In Tell Me Something True, Leila Cobo unfolds the story of a young woman who finds a diary that belonged to her late mother and learns about the secret life she led. Leila, today's guest blogger, talks about how she came to write the novel and what some readers of the book have revealed to her.
My mother was a beautiful woman.
My earliest memories of her are infused by that beauty, by her sense of style, of just-so-ness. Everything my mother touched, worked. She could take the flimsiest piece of wrapping paper and produce a gorgeous-looking gift. She could fill out school forms and never cross out or erase words; everything always managed to fit. She could orchestrate elaborate dinners and classroom parties, bake chocolate cakes, sew back buttons and fix whatever was ailing me, it didn't matter what or when or where. One of my lasting images of my mother is watching her as she left for the annual New Year's Eve party with my father, resplendent in her gala dress, and the next morning, at 7 a.m., they'd return, and she would look as lovely as ever, as if she had just stepped out of a magazine despite the tumultuousness of that never-ending night.
And yet, now that I have children of my own, I realize how little I really knew who my mother was then; how limited my understanding of her ambitions and wants and general state of happiness.
Ironically, Tell Me Something True
wasn't written upon this premise. Instead, the story of a girl who finds out that everything she knows about her mother is a lie stemmed from my grandmother's death when my mother was barely two years old. As a result, my mother has no memories at all of her own mother, except those that others have fed her.
On my end, when I became pregnant with my first child --- my daughter --- I was terrified at the prospect of dying before she got to know me (morbid, I know). And so, I started to write a diary for my child, chronicling the mundane, every day things we did, the little seemingly insignificant occurrences that actually make up the core of a person's life. The diary led to the "what if." What if all those things you took for granted were predicated upon a lie.
As I've spoken with more and more readers of Tell Me Something True
I've been surprised at how many have a secret in their lives. And also, at how many have come to realize through the years that they really have never known their parents beyond their parenting role.
This desire to go beyond the façade our parents put up for us is an unintended consequence of the novel. But it's been a rather beautiful consequence borne directly from my readers and which, at a personal level, has led me to not only re examine my own relationship with my mother but to gain new appreciation for the person she was and the person she has become.
Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel: A Book that Keeps on Cooking
Author duo Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel teamed up to write The Recipe Club, a "novel cookbook" that combines a story of friendship with more than 80 recipes. In today's guest blog post, they tell us how they came to write
The Recipe Club and how it's inspiring readers long after they finish the tale.
Oh, the things you learn when you write a book! When we put the final period on the last sentence of The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship
, we knew we had tapped into something even bigger than the 364 pages of our novel-cookbook.
Suddenly we were hearing from people who were relating not only to the story and characters in the book, but who wanted to share their own food stories. Very quickly we discovered there are inextricable connections that exist between the food and our deepest emotions. And to our delight, we realized that we had stirred the embers of a yearning many readers have to connect, to reflect, and to create community.A Twinkle in the Eye of Friendship
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before we explain what happened after our book was published, we'll tell you a little about how it came to be.
Though the book is in no way autobiographical, it was born out of our friendship. When we began to write it, we were both aspiring fiction writers who wanted to explore the complexities of women’s friendships. Though we hoped that one day the book would be published, we initially wrote it for ourselves just because it was pure joy to share a creative process with a close friend.
The novel's story charts the ups and downs of a lifelong friendship between Lilly and Val.
Lilly, dramatic and confident, lives in the shadow of her beautiful, wayward mother and craves the attention of her distant, disapproving father. Val, shy, idealistic --- and surprisingly ambitious --- struggles with her desire to break free from her demanding, housebound mother and a father whose dreams never seem to come true.
Despite their bumpy relationship, "LillyPad" and "ValPal" stay connected by forming an exclusive, two-person Recipe Club, writing intimate letters in which they share hopes, fears, deepest secrets--and recipes, from Lilly's "Lovelorn Lasagna" to Valerie's "Forgiveness Tapenade." Readers can cook along as the friends travel through time facing the challenges of independence, the joys and heartbreaks of first love and the emotional complexities of family relationships, identity, mortality and dreams deferred.
The Recipe Club sustains Lilly and Val's bond through the decades, regardless of what different paths they take or what misunderstandings threaten to break them apart...until one fateful day when an act of kindness becomes an unforgivable betrayal. Years later, while trying to recapture the trust they've lost, Lilly and Val reunite once more --- only to uncover a shocking secret. Will it destroy their friendship or bring them ever closer?
With this plot in the background, we needed to create a narrative pastiche to reflect the book's dual (novel/cookbook) purpose. So we told Lilly and Val's story using emails between the adult characters, childhood letters, and a third-person narrative to open (and close) it all up. Then we added hand-drawn illustrations and bespoke recipe designs that reflect the characters' ages, personalities and emotional states.The Book Leaves the Nest
It was our greatest hope that readers would embrace the characters and concept of a novel-cookbook, and we are extremely pleased by how well-received it has been (kind of how parents are proud when their children are accepted and even praised). But the truth is, we never imagined what would happen after The Recipe Club
found its way into the world.
Once the book was out, readers began asking us to help run their own, real-life Recipe Clubs. So now we're creating story-telling circles in which small groups gather to exchange food-related memories and the recipes that go along with them.
The stories we're hearing from coast to coast are about anything and everything: food and family, food and joy, food and anger, love, travel, creativity, empowerment...it's limitless. Whatever the subject, each story has a deep and resonant emotional component. One woman's memory about smashing a baked Alaska (as it was about to be served to an undeserving suitor) was really a tale of unrequited love and seizing back personal power. Another woman remembered pretending to be sick at school in order to be taken home by a beloved aunt, knowing she’d be fed a delicious home-cooked lunch; her story was about craving the comfort and safety of family. You can see some of our Recipe Clubs in action: TheRecipeClubBook.com
Every Recipe Club story is different. But all share a hunger for connecting to memory, to other people, and to self-understanding. That's essentially true of our novel, as well. We're thrilled our book has inspired something so positive and life-affirming! And we're happy to know that a novel cookbook we once wrote only for ourselves now has an energy and life that continues long after the last sentence is read and the final recipe is made.
---Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
ReadingGroupGuides.com Facebook roundup for November/December
Kudos to this intrepid blogger for compiling an ever-growing list of 'Best Books of 2009'
database. We all should thank him.
TIME Magazine recently posted its 'Best of Everything 2009,' including books. See fiction here
and nonfiction here
. Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins is a title we're featuring on ReadingGroupGuides.com this month! There's also loads of other fun lists on there, too.
Two major publishers --- Simon & Schuster and Hachette --- announced a new policy for e-books in 2010. Read about it in this Wall Street Journal
article, and weigh-in on this hot -button issue.
Penguin Classics on Air is a new half-hour radio series devoted to some of the more than 1,500 Penguin Classics titles. It debuted on Thursday, December 10 with a show dedicated to the continued fascination, and sales, around Jane Austen. You can listen Mondays at 3 PM ET and Thursdays at 11:30 PM ET on Sirius XM Book Radio (Sirius #117, XM #163).
At the tender age of 90, P.D. James
is still cranking out the literary mysteries and seeing her fanbase expand with each release.
We've been closely following the auction for Cormac McCarthy's 40-year-old typewriter
, which he used to write NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE ROAD, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, and much, more more. McCarthy replaced the typewriter with a similar model for $11 and $19.95 in shipping/handling. And the winning bid
was impressive to say the least.
Carol was recently quoted in The Sacramento Bee
about book club camaraderie and changes in book club culture.
A rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe's first book
went to auction with a big price tag.
The NYT notable 100 books of 2009
The NYT book critics personal favorites
Amazon's top editor and customer choices
The National Book Award winners
were recently announced, and it was also the 60th anniversary of the award.
Labels: Reading Group Guides
Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs
In previous RGG.com blog posts Denise Neary has shared the story of how she came to found the book club The Red Balloons with her daughter, as well as why Jodi Picoult's novel
My Sister's Keeper led to the group's best discussion. Today, Denise tells us about a valuable reading group resource.
Starting a book club? Interested in keeping one growing? Have I got a book for you!
Just when you think you know everything there is to know about setting up, running and nurturing a book club --- along comes a book to challenge, in the nicest possible way, all of your certain and deeply-held beliefs. Cindy Hudson's Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs
is a gem of a resource for those starting a book club, especially for those starting a parent/child club.
It is a helpful resource for any book club. How do you keep a book club fresh? How do you deal with new arrivals, or departures? How do you deal with (and I am sure that this has never happened in your book clubs) grumbling, infighting? What if people don't read the books?
My daughter and I have been in a daughter-mother book club for years, and have stolen wonderful ideas more times than I can count from Hudson’s great website: MotherDaughterBookClub.com
. I was lucky enough to be one of the many people Hudson interviewed, as part of her effort to include in her book as many points of views and experiences as she could.
The book takes all that is great about the website --- wonderful ideas, great tips, book lists, author interviews --- and ratchets that good information up many levels. Hudson creates a one-stop shopping guide that pulls together all of the lessons (some happy, some less so) she has learned in the years she has nurtured two successful book clubs --- and, as an important aside, two teenage daughters who 1) read and 2) talk to their Mom!
It is a fun book to read --- organized in a way that simply walks the reader through the process of setting up a club, and keeping it going. Reading the book gave me some great new pointers for our group, and would give great guidance to anyone interested in what makes successful book clubs work.
If you are looking for a holiday gift for any Moms and daughters interested in getting closer through books, this book might be just the thing.
Emilie Richards: A Holiday Jingle
Today, Emilie Richards brings us some festive cheer with a fun holiday jingle, "Mary Reader," written especially for booklovers and that can be sung along to the tune of a popular Christmas carol.Emilie's most recent novel is Happiness Key, the story of four women who have nothing in common...or so it seems. She is also the author of the
Ministry is Murder series and the
Shenandoah Album series.
For more about Emilie, visit her website and her blog, "Southern Exposure." To read her RGG.com guest post, "A Writers' Book Club," click here.
The Booklover's Carol
(sung to the tune of Good King Wenceslas)
Mary Reader went to town, when the skies were sleeting
Looking for a book to buy, for to do some reading
Oh, the shelves were wide and tall
Filled with Brown and Grisham
Mega-authors one and all
Covers bright and winsome
Oh bookseller, may I ask, where more books are hiding?
Where, oh where, are authors new, where are they residing?
Novels strange and novels odd
Novels bold or fi-ine
Find me something new, by God
Or I will buy on-line
Mary Reader, have no fear, yes, this is confusing
Reprints, knock-offs, backlist, too, yours for the perusing
Authors who make lots of dough
Can be quite obnoxious
Management puts on the show
We unpack the boxes.
Mary Reader went back home, while the snow was falling
Made some popcorn, poured some wine, Channel Six was calling
Yes she'd rather read all night
When the skies are sleety
But when books are all alike
Mary watches TV
Hope Edelman: First Impressions
Hope Edelman, today's guest blogger, recounts how she came to be sitting in a Los Angeles living room with the very first book group to read and discuss her memoir The Possibility of Everything...and why their encounter was different from what she had envisioned.
Hope is the author of five nonfiction books, including the bestsellers
Motherless Daughters and
The flyer came home in my seven-year-old's school backpack. Her Los Angeles elementary school was planning its annual fundraising dinner, and the school needed parent donations for the silent auction part of the event.
I scanned my office...and came up with a blank. What could a book author donate that could compete with a set visit to Hannah Montana
or a pair of drumsticks signed by Tommy Lee? If I were a novelist I could name a fictional character after the highest bidder --- I've seen that offered before --- but my next book, not yet in stores, was a memoir. Most of the names would be real. That was the point.
Then I had an idea: maybe I could auction off eight review copies to a bidder whose book group would be the first to read it. I'd supply the books and the wine and cheese. The winner would supply the readers. They'd get a sneak peek, and I'd get a focus group of sorts. It seemed like a winning proposition for all.
So I filled out the yellow donation. Which is how I later wound up sitting in a Los Angeles living room with the very first book group to read and discuss my new book.
As I sat in the circle with a small plate of cheese and crackers balanced on my thighs, I tried to calm my nerves. That probably sounds disingenuous for a writer on her fifth book. Don't we do these things all the time? Actually, no. My first four books were written specifically for women who'd lost their mothers. They weren't typical book-club selections. In fact, I'd never been invited to a book club as an author before. I truly didn't know what to expect.How daunting could it be?
I asked myself. They'd discuss the book, I'd answer a few questions, and then we'd all go home. I eyed the soft-bound copies they held in their laps. The pages were riddled with typos and mistakes that had since been corrected, but would this group know that? Or would they fixate on the errors, thinking I was a sloppy writer? Would they form opinions about the book based on passages that had already been deleted or reshaped?
I was focusing on the typos to avoid the real question: What would this first group of readers think about the book? I'd taken a risk publishing it, for sure. It's the story of bringing my three-year-old daughter to Maya healers in Belize to get rid of her imaginary friend. Granted, this was Southern California, where an exotic shaman or two doesn't exactly raise eyebrows, but still. It's an unconventional parenting choice by anyone's standards, and this was a room full of moms.
"I have to confess," one of the women began, "that I didn't finish the book..."
My heart sank.
"...because my husband picked it up and started reading it," she continued, "and wouldn't give it back until he was done. So I didn't get to start it until just a few days ago."
A reader liked the book? He'd liked it? He'd liked it! I felt my shoulders relax three inches.
For the next hour, the conversation hopped around from a heated discussion about why I'd whisked my daughter out of a bush doctor's cabin in the rainforest, to a question about how my family members felt about the book. We talked about how I'd originally begun the book as a novel, and how different the story would have been as fiction.
And then a remarkable moment occurred. One of the women said that reading The Possibility of Everything
made her want to become a better parent, and I watched as the conversation naturally segued into the more general topic of the kind of mother we each hoped to be, and from there into a spirited discussion about cultural distinctions between spirituality and religion and --- by now leaving the book behind in our dust --- then into a talk about what those terms meant to each of us as mothers and women today.
Whoa. And I'd been obsessing about typos?
Via the unique type of alchemy I'd seen before in college literature classes, the discussion lifted up from the book and entered the realm of larger cultural discourse. The barrier between author and reader vanished. We were just seven mothers talking about subjects that mattered to us. And I suddenly felt ridiculous for having worried about being misunderstood or judged. Because even more than I want my work to be well received --- what author doesn't? --- what I hope for most is for my books to inspire readers to reach for something bigger than my words, even bigger than themselves. To remind us that we're part of the same complicated, glorious, painful, transcendent existence, all searching for meaning together.
It doesn't take a village to accomplish this. It doesn't take a university professor standing at the front of the room. All it takes is a small group of passionate, engaged readers willing to share their innermost thoughts. And this author is grateful that the first book club she attended had the courage to do this, and the generosity to let her join them.
Labels: Hope Edelman, Possibility of Everything
Laura Kasischke: The Fairy Tale & the Black Death
Laura Kasischke, today's guest blogger, shares the inspiration behind the writing of her novel In a Perfect World --- fairy tales, the Black Death and the question "What if?" She also reveals the kind of writing she loves and what she, in turn, makes sure to give the readers of her stories.
Laura teaches in the University of Michigan MFA program and the Residential College, and she is the author of seven poetry collections and seven novels.
The idea for the novel In a Perfect World
came to me while I was immersed in two very different books. The first was the book The Great Mortality
by John Kelly, a history of the Black Death, which I was reading two summers ago mostly in a chair at the edge of the public pool while keeping an eye on various children in my care. While reading, the writer's question occurred to me:
What if a plague happened here --- starting slowly, caused by things we couldn't understand, trickling across the landscape in terrifying bits instead of the gigantic cataclysms we often dread? Who would we become?
I was also reading fairy tales of all kinds at this time, luxuriating in the tale-ness of them, the unabashed ways they promoted their own agendas, set forth their archetypes, challenged them unreasonably, and followed their progress.
It was this combination of reading a book about a kind of apocalypse and reading fairy tales full of mysterious details and familiary types that led the way for me. I wanted my narrative be a "fairy tale gone wrong," but redemptive, too, in the way that even the darkest fairy tale is usually redemptive.
At the outset, the protagonist in my novel is the kind of woman I've been myself off and on at various points in my life --- except that I gave her the attributes of a Cinderella: her patience, her goodness, her extraordinary beauty, her naivete --- none of that is mine! But, at heart, like so many princesses, fictional and non-fictional, she wants romance. In the end, she does not have the fairy tale romance she wanted, but by rising to the challenges she's given, she has something richer and more important, in my opinion, in the end.
The kind of writing I really love is sensual stuff --- the sky and the weather and smell of a child's hair --- so I work extra hard when writing a novel to give the reader something to fear or anticipate or a question to find an answer to, so he or she will be more likely (hopefully) to indulge my lingering on imagery so long.
I knew that a step-family would add "instant conflict," just as it does in a fairy tale, and that an epidemic sweeping the land would be upping the ante on that considerably, so I felt an additional need to keep the focus on the domestic details, and the crises in the larger world acted as a kind of landscape, a stage set. This is also how I imagine that such disasters occur in real lives:
First a distant rumor, and then, for long periods perhaps, a peaceful denial, and then a little closer trouble, followed by a reprieve and a forgetting, etc. But, in the meantime, you've got to scramble some eggs for your kids and get the laundry folded.
The fairy tale choices I intersperse in the story were deliberately chosen, and inspired many aspects of the novel. Mostly they were mother/child stories, which always involve so much conflict and heartache, especially Hans Christian Andersen's. His "The Story of a Mother" was on my mind the whole time I was working on the novel --- and if you haven't read that one before, get out some Kleenex before you do! I feel there is so much to learn from the past, from history, and from the long traditions of tales. In a Perfect World
was my way of trying to pay tribute, in a little way, to that.
More Book Groups Give Back
Yesterday Marsha Toy Engstrom told us about the many ways the members of her northern California book club, Readers in the Hood, lend a helping hand in their community. Today several other reading group members share their stories on giving back.
Three years ago my book club of 11 women started contributing to charity. At our monthly meetings we each give $10 to the person hosting the meeting, and she contributes the amount collected to a charity of her choice. Often the money goes to a charity that is related in some way to the book we read for that month. For example, when we read Still Alice
by Lisa Genova, the money went to our local Alzheimer's organization. After reading Escape
by Carolyn Jessop, we donated to another local charity, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services.---Cathy Friedberg, Middleton, WI
Each month our group, The Read & Dialogue Book Group, collects funds for the Central Asia Institute. This began a year ago when we read Three Cups of Tea
by the organization’s founder, Greg Mortenson. We also donate items for the Cherished Child preschool of our church. The preschool director lets us know what they are in need of each month, I send out a list, and the members bring the items to the meeting. These range from diapers, wipes and latex gloves to craft supplies, toys and books.---Ann Zeigler, San Antonio, TX
Our book club, The Bookers, has a variety of projects. The three below are annual projects.
1. We collect new children's books at our December meeting. All are asked to wrap the gift and then place a post-it note saying gender and age range. These books are given to three area charities. They are distributed to mothers or fathers so they may present their child with a book.
2. We collect funds for Help Hospitalized Veterans. This charity distributes craft kits to soldiers recovering in hospitals.
3. We collect items for the Jackson Field Home for Girls in Jarratt, VA: once a year used clothing drive; once a year new underwear drive; and books at each monthly meeting.
In May 2009 we found that we had extra funds. We gave $50 to each of the five local public libraries for a reference book of their choice. We also gave $150 in magazine subscriptions to the Jackson Field Home for Girls.---Carol Weigel, Henrico, NC
We have the Sexual Assault Domestic Violence Centre connected to the hospital where I work. The Centre sees about 400 people/year who are victims of family violence. Each person is given a copy of Lundy Bancroft
's book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
. The women find this book extremely helpful in dealing with the issue, and the books have been available free of charge as the Centre had received a gift of 50 copies. Our book club read it, and the director of the Centre facilitated a meeting. We had a number of non-members (who are always welcomed) join us for the discussion, including an emergency department nurse and a staff member who had left an abusive relationship. We all donated our copies of the book to the Centre. We then put out a challenge to the hospital staff to purchase the book and donate it back. On November 4th, we Skyped Lundy into the auditorium of our public library, and 75 people both men and women attended.
300 copies of the book have been purchased, and we hope many of them will be donated back to us. Our Centre has challenged the other 34 hospital connected centres in the province to do the same.---Elaine Baldwin, Librarian, St. Mary’s General Hospital, Kitchener, Ontario
Readers in the Hood Give Back
Marsha Toy Engstrom and her book club, Readers in the Hood, do a lot more than get together and discuss books. They lend a helping hand in various ways in their northern California community.
In today's post, Marsha talks about some of their endeavors, like donating books to the library of a preschool for homeless and underprivileged children (see photo below)...and why they're actually the selfish ones.
Marsha's Previous RGG.com Posts:
The Book Club Cheerleader's Top 10 Book Club Books of 2009
Library Resources for Book Clubs
We Readers in the Hood all feel so blessed --- and no matter what is on our plates, there is always a small way we can try to give back. Over the years, we have found many non-profit organizations whose mission we believe in. By participating in their events, we are not only helping a good cause, but we also have a wonderful time together as a group --- so it's really a win-win!
We have walked together to support a friend in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. We collected stuffed animals for children at local hospitals as part of the Annual Bunny Drive in honor of Sammie Hartsfield, a local girl who recently lost her three-year battle with osteosarcoma. We collected Toys for Tots, and have sponsored tables for many local Hospital Foundation events. But here are some of our favorite ways we have found to give back. You could say these events have become annual traditions with our book group.Friends of the Library:
While two members serve on the Friends board, almost all of our Hoodie members are also "Friends" members. We support this worthy organization by donating and sorting books for their quarterly book sales, and supporting their events including Fright Night, book sales, Mystery Night and author lectures. Our leader even serves as the Special Events Coordinator, finding the featured authors.National Kidney Foundation:
For the past five years, Readers in the Hood has sponsored a table at the NKF authors' luncheon. Not only do we help raise funds for a worthy organization, but we also look forward to this annual event as a fun "girl outing"! A bonus is that we get to meet fabulous authors there --- and typically select a few of their books for future Hoodie reads. This year, meeting Abraham Verghese, Annie Barrows and Gail Tsukiyama was a real treat.Food Closet:
For the past three years, we have collected canned goods, toiletries and paper goods for our local Food Closet during our "Giving Back at Thanksgiving" project. The Food Closet serves a critical need, supporting many other faith-based groups and homeless shelters in our community. In these tough economic times, they serve as a vital resource for many who would otherwise fall through the cracks.Yolo County Historical Museum:
For the past couple of years, our book club has participated in another holiday event, The Festival of Trees. Many local organizations donate a decorated tree, wreath or other holiday decoration, which the museum later auctions at the museum's holiday party. We take inspiration from a book title; for example, last year we used Cry of the Peacock
by Gina B. Nahai and this year we're working with The Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore. We then place that book under the tree to include with the tree donation as our little nod to promoting literacy.Noah's Ark Preschool:
Another project near and dear to our hearts is the local school for homeless and underprivileged children. For the past few years, in lieu of reading a book in December, we donate books to the preschool library. In addition, we get to play Santa. The preschool director gives us the names, ages and genders of the students and their siblings, along with a hint as to what is on their Christmas lists. We each bring the wrapped toy that we have purchased for our chosen child to our Holiday party. Is it really better to give than receive? You betcha! And what a great gift we give ourselves at this holiday time!
If traditions help build the foundation of a group's culture, then I feel honored that our book club is growing a culture of literacy in our community while embracing the value of giving back. We're actually pretty selfish --- since we're the ones who receive the gift.
---Marsha Toy Engstrom
Book Club Cheerleader and
Head Hoodie, Readers in the HoodBookclubcheerleader.comReadersinthehood.com