Kandide and The Secret of the Mists

Our book club has taken an odd turn–

This fall we will read Kandide and the Secret of the Mists, a book meant for 9-12 year old readers (let’s just say we are all a wee bit older than that).  It’s all faeries and magical worlds and enchanting adventure, not my usual interests!  But one of our members is a friend of Diane Zimmerman, the author, and she will be attending our meeting in person.  That’s a rare opportunity and one we did not want to pass up.  Ms. Zimmerman is also a professional magician at the Magic Castle in LA- pretty cool! Several of us (myself included) have children that fall into the 9-12 age range, so we’re going to ask them to read the book along with us and include them in our meeting.

The trailer is quite good!  Check it out:

 

 

Click HERE for a Promo Code to save 25% on Kandide!

Has your book club ever read something completely different like this?  If so, how did it go?  

Authors- They’re Just Like US! #1

One of the glossy magazines dedicated to celebrities (Us Weekly, I believe) has a regular feature showing famous people doing everyday things.  I like seeing rockstars picking up their drycleaning or box office sweethearts biting their nails.  I’m just a voyeur that way.  It’s interesting to see that in some ways they’re ordinary people, just like us. 

In writing this blog I’ve been able to correspond with authors, MY celebrities- MY rockstars, and I began to wonder about them.  Do they like the same books I like?  What do they recommend to their friends?  I don’t have the resources to hire the paparazzi to follow them around and peek into their bedrooms to see what’s on their nightstands, so I decided to pose the same 5 questions to a number of authors.  I got so many great responses that I’ve decided to tackle each question in a separate post.

Question #1- AUTHORS:  WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

Linda Merlino, author of Belly of the Whale:  Firehouse  by David Halberstam.

Jennie Shortridge , author of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe: A rather odd juxtaposition of fiction and nonfiction:  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. 

Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience:  When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Megan Crane, author of Names My Sisters Call Me:  Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.  It’s the latest Lynley mystery, and now that I know George will, in fact, kill off longterm characters, I know that no one is safe! 

Jasmin Rosenberg, author of How the Other Half Hamptons:  The Divorce Party” by Laura Dave, after devouring her debut novel “London is the Best City in America”

Edward Hardy, author of Keeper and Kid:  A Voyage Long and Strange  by Tony Horwitz. 

Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters:   Dirty Words, edited by Ellen Sussman, which contains so many pieces that are funny, surprisingly sweet, and undeniably sexy.  And The Divorce Party, by Laura Dave, which is an incredibly moving story of two women sorting out how to go forward with or without the men in their lives.

Alan Cheuse, author of To Catch the Lightning:  Lost in Uttar Pradesh: New and Selected Stories  by Evan Connell, an old master, and stories by new Irish writer Claire Keegan, a real prodigy (Keegan’s book is titled Walk the Blue Fields).

Mathias Freese, author of Down to a Sunless Sea:  I’m about to begin reading Montaigne’s essays, in part, because Eric Hoffer claimed he learned about writing essays from this master. 

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony:  Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.  A terrific novel. 

Susan Woodring  , author of Springtime on Mars:  An Invisible Sign of My Own  by Aimee Bender (I’m on a Bender kick.)

Doreen Orion, author of Queen of the Road:  I’m currently reading a novel by Marisa De Los Santos, LOVE WALKED IN.  The last bookstore I did one of my reading/signing/royal shticks at, A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, gives authors who do events a choice of any book in the store as a gift.  So, I asked what they particularly loved and this was it.  I started it on the plane back last night and I can see why. 

Don’t you just love knowing that Meg Clayton is reading Dirty Words, or that Doreen Orion is reading that Marisa de los Santos book you’ve been eyeing, or that Alan Cheuse is reading Walk the Blue Fields (which, by the way, has a stunning cover- I may have to get it just for that!)? 

Next time we’ll see what books authors couldn’t/didn’t finish reading, and why.  I’ve been known to abandon a book now and then, so I’m very curious to see what books authors let go of before the end.

So..what are YOU reading?  

Guest Post: The Power of Women Who Read by Jennie Shortridge

Last June our book club discussed Eating Heaven, and author Jennie Shortridge attended by speakerphone. This was the first time we’d had an author in attendance and we were really nervous. One thing I remember and laugh about now from our conversation with her is that we were so concerned about taking up too much of her time that we jumped in with our questions almost as soon as she picked up the phone, and she said something like- “Well, hold on a minute, what are you guys eating? And are you enjoying some wine?” I remember she asked to “meet” each of us and we all introduced ourselves separately. She was so warm and friendly, and funny, too! We were so impressed with her and her book.

So imagine how happy I was when we found each other in blog-land, and how delirious I became when she agreed to a guest post! Please enjoy Jennie’s thoughts on The Power of Women Who Read. Ooooo, I am feeling powerful already!

The Power of Women Who Read

by Jennie Shortridge

Because I’m a reader and a woman, I may be biased on this topic, but I’ve had the opportunity to meet many other wonderful reading women through authoring three novels and attending many, many book group gatherings to discuss them. It’s no surprise to anyone that the majority of readers and book group members are women, and it’s no surprise book publishers drool over the thought of putting out a book that is book-group worthy.

This is where our power comes in. We can read Oprah books and NY Times bestsellers, or any other books someone else tells us to; there is no shame in that. For the most part, they’re fine books, and bestsellers for a reason. Of course, there are other options. Author Josh Henkins blogged here recently and offered you a challenge: choose something for your group that half of you haven’t read. I wanted to jump up and down clapping my hands when I read that. Yes, please! There are so many wonderful books out in the world. Why read the same twelve everyone else is reading?

As an author who attends book groups, in person and on the phone, I’d like to make a little pitch for those books whose authors aren’t yet household names. We are friendly, and available! We have insider stories of the book world, and of course, how the book was conceived and written. Some of us are funny, some serious, some weird, maybe, but we all have one thing in common. We love books as much as you do, and will sit and talk with you about them as long as you’ll let us.

But here’s where the power part comes in. By choosing those books that don’t get all of the marketing money and media attention, you send a message to publishers: we love these books. We purchase these books. We support these authors. Keep publishing them, too, along with the bestsellers and sure things. Publishers will take note.

How do you find great books? Ask your friends, your sisters and co-workers what they’ve loved lately. Ask your local bookseller for something beyond the front of the store. What secret gem lies in wait back in the shelves? Look at the employee recommended lists in bookstores. Ask librarians. Ask other book groups. Ask your hairdresser. Look to older books you missed the first time around. A book does not become stale or moldy with age. It seasons, just like we do, oh women readers.

In that spirit, I have a few book suggestions that may not have crossed your radar.

Miss Alcott’s Email, by Kit Bakke. Yes, Kit is a friend here in Seattle, but I pick her book because it’s smart, wry, and delightfully subversive! Kit has the audacity to imagine that she finds a way to email back and forth with Louisa May Alcott, and in her wonderful prose, they discuss social movements, personal connections, writing and famous writers, and so much more.

Church of the Dog, by Kaya McLaren. Highly recommended by friends, I’m about to embark on this novel myself. For now, I’ll just tell you what a famous author says about it: “Church of the Dog is a radiant novel that honors the broken among us, tenderly healing with its love, humor, and understanding. Kaya McLaren is a deeply wonderful writer. From the opening scene of Mara in her grandmother’s garden, through the wrenching finale on the ranch, I was stunned by this book. It’s a classic on the spirituality of everyday life…”—Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author

Devils in the Sugar Shop, by Timothy Schaffert. LOADS of sexy fun mixed with utter poignancy as a group of offbeat Omaha women gather for a sex-toy party, ending up with more than they bargained for. Not for the prudish, as you may have guessed. I also love both of Timothy’s other books: The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God (I even blurbed it) and The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters.

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Low-Life, by Sam Savage. This little book is the Ratatouille of the book world! It’s no cartoon, however, but the wonderful adventures and misadventures of a rat and his family inhabiting a Boston bookstore in the 1960s. Quirky, yes! Fun, yes! You’ll love it. I promise.

Chez Moi, by Agnes Desarthe and Adriana Hunter. French author Desarthe tells the story of Myriam, a middle-aged wife and mother who, with no prior experience, opens a restaurant in Paris. With few resources, she sleeps in the dining room and bathes in the kitchen sink, struggling to come to terms with her painful past. Her delectable cuisine begins to bring in customers and Myriam finds that she may get a second chance at life and love. Chez Moi is a charming story that will appeal to those who love Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate.

-In that vein, Home Cooking: A Writer’s Life in the Kitchen, by the late, great Laurie Colwin. If you’ve somehow missed Laurie’s books, they’re all wonderful.

-And of course, I’d be delighted if you chose one of my novels. You can read more about them at www.jennieshortridge.com.

I could go on all day. Claim your power, oh reading women! Make your own choices about what you read, and help broaden the scope of wonderful reading out there in the world, not just for you and your group, but for the community of readers whose decisions you impact here.

Jennie Shortridge is a three-time bestselling novelist. Her most recent book is Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, and her second novel, Eating Heaven, has become a favorite book club pick for hundreds of groups, even one in Taiwan! Learn more about Jennie and her books HERE.

Guest Post: The Wednesday Sisters Book Group by Meg Waite Clayton

The Wednesday Sisters Book Group

by Meg Waite Clayton

My friend Camilla Olson has this to say about our Wednesday Sisters Book Group: “I love that our book club parties together in the context of the neighborhood. It seems in California that things are either too spread out or too close, and neighbors become invisible. At first I was really intimidated by the club. After all, our first book after I joined was Madame Bovary!” And fellow voracious reader—and writer!—Rayme Adzema also loves the way the “geographical boundary” of the club strengthens the neighborhood.

When we first gathered almost five years ago now, though, we were not yet The Wednesday Sisters. Most of us did not know each other well—if at all. Relatively new to the neighborhood myself, I’d practically squealed when I was invited to join, but I remember feeling awkward walking to that first meeting. Would anyone I knew be there? Would I be able to call to mind the names of the few folks I had met? Why did I ever imagine this would be fun? I wasn’t even all that wild about the book!

It’s hard to believe now that I ever doubted anything about the Wednesday Sisters. I think the murky old ice shattered at our third meeting, with Anne Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage—by the end of which I was laughing so hard I was literally shedding tears at the stories of my fellow readers’ marriages.

Not that our husbands are anything to laugh at!

Okay, maybe they are. But then we ourselves are something to laugh at, too, which is all part of the fun, and part of the learning experience that goes on when we gather—although we don’t laugh at each other unless the subject of the laughter is laughing first; when I accidentally wore two different shoes to a meeting (hey! they were both black!) everyone kept their chuckles to themselves.

With House of Mirth, On Beauty, and The Senator’s Wife, we talked about women’s choices and self-image, sharing our own histories, our own dreams. When we read Reading Lolita in Tehran, we donned the bhurka Camilla brought, a little firsthand experience of that life so different from ours. For Madame Bovary, we gobbled Marie’s crepes. For Hunting and Gathering, we drank a lovely French wine and, yes, I think we did eat the entire tart and most of the cheese.

 The one thing that has been constant through all the books we’ve read—and I don’t think there has been a single book on which we’ve had a unanimous opinion—is that, as Jennifer said at a Memorial Day barbecue, “We do talk about the book!” Writing style and plot, simile, metaphor, point of view, and theme are certainly words in our vocabularies, and no meeting ends without reference to other books.

Actually, now that I think about it, there is another thing that has been constant: We root for each other. Whether it is attending Leslie Berlin’s first reading for her wonderful The Man Behind the Microchip, or applauding Rayme’s success in the Palo Alto Weekly short story competition, Adrienne’s photography, Camilla’s acceptance to her fashion program or Diana’s to Stanford’s Genetic Counseling  graduate school, we cheer each other on. The group has risen to support me again and again: reading my first novel; practically leaping at the name “The Wednesday Sisters”—the title of my not-yet-sold-at-the-time second novel; and now hosting the launch party for The Wednesday Sisters, which Random House/Ballantine is publishing next week.

There’s the wine, too. We always do serve wine. So I suppose there are three constants about us.

Or four: the laughter. Of course.

Five: … Oh, never mind! For a group of women linked initially only by geography, we turn out to be a pretty constant group of wonderfully-connected readers and friends.

Meg’s novel The Wednesday Sisters will be available on June 17th!  Her website is jammed with information for would-be writers, readers, and fellow book clubbers.  You can find it HERE.

You can read Meg’s Bio HERE.  To read an excerpt of The Wednesday Sisters, click HERE.  For a rave review from Trish at Hey, Lady! click HERE.

Meg, it was such a treat to hear about your book group.  Thanks for guest posting!

Guest Post: Judging a Book by its…. Trailer?

It was nice to learn that I was not the last human on the planet to discover book trailers! Yesterday’s Janeology post and trailer sparked a lot of discussion in the comments, so Karen Harrington, author of Janeology, offered to share a piece she wrote for her blog a while back about book trailers.  Thanks, Karen!

Judging a book by its…trailer?                       by Karen Harrington

Do you recall that great line from Sunset Boulevard where fading silent movie actress Norma Desmond defends her role in the movies? She cites her looks, her expressions and says, “You can’t write that down.”

It’s true. There are feelings one can convey through a look that the best writers would find hard to describe. So it’s only natural that the trend towards using cinematic features is now in vogue for bookselling. Book trailers arguably have the ability to convey dramatic elements of a story in ways a book jacket cannot.

Author Brenda Coulter disagrees that this is a good method for books however saying that most trailers are simple slideshows with a soundtrack. She also dislikes that so many of the trailers cannot be viewed by a huge percentage of Americans due to dial-up connection. Now, to be fair, Ms. Coulter wrote her opinion two years ago. The method has come a long way, baby!

The trailer for Ann Patchett’s latest novel Run shows an aqueous blue background with bubbles continuously floating over images of people, houses on the rich/poor ends of the spectrum and selected descriptive passages from the novel. The singular piano accompaniment to this trailer creates an inviting, if not subtle, undercurrent of mystery and secrets. You could probably view this trailer in a library.

By contrast author Caro Ramsey’s novel trailer for Absolution comes at the viewer full stop, with ominous images of knives and crosses bouncing across the screen in a shaky hand-held camera style, all set to an eerie single violin Silence of the Lambs-esque piece that would likely get you summarily shushed by a librarian.

I am intrigued by the very way images, music and ideas come together in less than five minutes to give a potential reader a sense of the book. And this new view into book trailers made me wonder: would we choose books the same way we choose movies – from a two-minute glimpse? Would you rather go into Barnes & Noble and scan several short videos to make your selection? Or do you prefer to scan the New Release table and thumb through the pages in hand?

Much like the current political environment where the key slogan of the day is “You Decide,” you can decide for yourself by viewing the trailers above, or even the one created for Janeology which is filled with haunting scenes of water imagery and dark family secrets, scored with music that will make your neck hairs stand at attention. (Fortunate author that I am, this trailer was created by one of THE inventors of the novel trailer art form, Kam Wai Yu, who has been developing this art since the 1980s.) 

Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, the story of one man’s attempt to understand his wife’s sudden descent into madness and murder.

Blog Stop Book Tour featuring Susan Woodring

This is my first time hosting an author on a blog tour (thank you, Mary Lewis from Blog Stop Book Tours, for arranging this!), and I’m so excited to welcome Susan Woodring, author of the brilliant short story collection, Springtime on Mars (reviewed HERE). I mentioned to Susan that Books on the Brain focuses on book clubs, and she suggested she write about why a short story collection is a great choice for a book club. Here’s what she came up with!

Coming into This Planet Again and Again: The Case for Short Story Collections
By Susan Woodring

“A story collection?” The woman, drifting amid a crowd of authors and book fair browsers, gives me a look of uncertainty: wrinkled brow, a moment’s hesitation. I touch the cover of my book, channeling words of comfort to it like a mother speaking to a distressed child. It is my child, my baby, caught now under the glare of this stranger’s scrutiny. Then, brightening, the woman says, “Say, don’t you also have a novel?”

As a novelist-turned-short-story-writer, I face this kind of thing all the time. Most people prefer non-fiction, but if they are going to read fiction, let it be a novel. They want to get cozy with a group of characters, live with those characters for a bit, follow them across a stretch of narrative time, all the while hoping for some happiness—or at least resolution—at the end. They want reading fiction to be a full-blown relationship, not a date; a home, not a glitzy hotel. They want to settle in, hunker down, and read.

I don’t blame them. I love novels. There’s nothing like moving into a fictitious world, getting to know its inhabitants, making friends, staying for dinner. Even better: I love it when a novel is so good, I come to the end with reluctance; I want it to go on and on. I completely understand the attraction. Yet, there are days when a girl needs a night out on the town. She needs a romp, no strings attached. To be dazzled, drawn close, given a glimpse of the funny, the ironic, the poignant, the wild. A girl needs a short story.

I wonder why fiction-readers often shy away from short story collections. You would think, with how limited everyone’s time is these days, a person would be thrilled to depart on a literary adventure that she or he can begin and complete in thirty minutes’ time. If coming to the end of a novel is satisfying, then wouldn’t a short story collection—with ten or more endings—be even more satisfying? Why wouldn’t a reader who finds joy and companionship with a few characters over the course of three hundred pages be all the richer for a series of quick but intimate encounters with dozens of characters?

The short-story form, I suppose, has a reputation for being hyper-literary. There are a fair number of scholarly journals out there publishing rather dry, pointedly confusing and—dare I say it?—boring stories. It is true that the short story is the purest, most artful form of fiction. While some writers do blatantly misuse the form, only wanting to show how smart they are—how elite—most short story writers simply love the art of short fiction. Short stories are, at their best, quirky, humorous, searching, true, and smart. The short story is able to crystallize a single, breath-catching moment in a character’s life—a moment that will, for that character, change everything. You can liken a well-written short story to a brilliant gem held under a light, the writer turning it just so until it glints brilliantly for a breath-taking instant. These extraordinary glimmers of truth, depth, and nuance flash again and again in a good collection.

I think a short story collection is the perfect choice for book clubs. For starters, there’s the obvious advantage of each story’s being self-contained. If you’re not smitten with a story in the first few pages, if it’s about dogs and you loathe dogs or if something about the narrative voice or the central character irritates you, fine. Move on to the next. The beauty of a short story collection is its variety; you’re almost guaranteed to find something you’ll like. Even the most eclectic mix of individuals can find something to love in a book of stories. More: a collection of short stories written by the same author is the best of both worlds. Sure, there’s the variety, but there’s also a common thread running through the stories. A collection of stories contains recurrent themes, situations, and life-questions. Each story offers a new way of seeing a common theme or motif. This makes for a lively, insightful, and challenging book talk. Also, a short story collection can be as comforting as a novel since you’re in the hands of the same author throughout. The scenery might change, and the people are different, but it’s a familiar voice speaking the story to you; you can be assured this writer will guide you through this story just as skillfully and as faithfully as he or she guided you through the last.

I don’t know if I’m able to convince the doubting woman at the book fair or how much success I’ll find in my mission to turn the world into short-story readers. As a novelist and a short-story writer, though, I can say which is the hardest to write, which demands the most from me in terms of talent, restraint, and insight. When you write a novel, you reinvent the world. When you write a short story collection, you reinvent the world ten times over. Reading a short story collection, then, is as big, as triumphant, as satisfying as coming into this planet again and again, each time seeing something new.

Susan’s Bio (from her website): Susan Yergler Woodring, an award-winning short story writer and novelist, grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. She also lived in California, Alabama, Illinois, and Indiana as a child. Upon graduating from Western Carolina University, she spent a year teaching in Vologda, Russia before moving to the foothills of North Carolina to teach middle school. Susan is a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program at Queens University in Charlotte. She is the author of one novel, The Traveling Disease. Her short fiction has earned many honors, including the 2006 Elizabeth Simpson Smith Short Fiction Award and the 2006 Isotope Editor’s Prize. Her work has appeared in Quick Fiction, Yemassee, Ballyhoo Stories, Slower Traffic Keep Right, The William and Mary Review, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing, Passages North, turnrow, and Surreal South (Press 53). Susan currently lives, writes, and home-schools her two children in Drexel, North Carolina.

Susan Woodring’s website can be found HERE

Susan has agreed to give away a copy of her book to one lucky winner. Leave a comment HERE by midnight PST, Friday, June 6th. Thank you, Susan! Wishing you all the best of luck with your short story collection, Springtime on Mars!

The Calliope Experiment #2: The Sleepless Night

Calliope’s Coffee House is a blog about books, writing and reviewing (she is a fellow reviewer at LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers group).  She recently started a writing challenge called The Calliope Experiment in which she posts a picture on Saturdays, then asks people to write 500 words about it and post it before the following Saturday (read about it HERE).  I am not a professional writer by any means, but this sounded like fun, so I’m giving it a try.  Here’s the picture and my story to go with it.  I’m calling it The Sleepless Night.  

2:48am.  Exactly 4 minutes since the last time I looked at the clock.  Exactly 3 hours and 12 minutes before the alarm is set to go off.  The storm rattled the windows and terrified the cat earlier (I’ve got a lovely scratch to prove it), but it is peaceful now, with the moon shining through the window and a little breeze stirring the lace curtains.  So where the hell is Joey?  I started calling his cell phone at midnight, since he said he’d be home by 11.  Call after call goes straight to voice mail.  I’ve asked him repeatedly to make sure his phone is on if he’s going to be out late.  Why does he insist on making me worry like this?  Even if he is practically a legal adult (8 more days), he knows I can’t get to sleep until I hear his key in the lock.  And God knows I need the rest.  

3:09am.  This just doesn’t feel right.  He’s not a perfect kid, but he’s a good kid, and it’s a school night.  He’s a high school senior, almost a man, but he’s still my baby, my firstborn.  At what point do I call the police?  Do I wait until morning?  Would they even do anything right now?  I can feel the panic rising inside.  Should I wake Ann?  Maybe he told her where he was going.   But she has to get up for school in a few hours too.  Where did he say he was going?  Or did he say?  I don’t think he did.  Who has he been hanging out with lately?  That Marcus kid’s been at the house a lot but I think he’s just sniffing around Ann.  There’s Jeff, but I haven’t seen him in months.  Sara- but they broke up, more or less.  I can’t think.  Who else?  

4:08am  I sit straight up in bed.  “Joey?” I call out.  “No, Ma, it’s just me.  I had to go to the bathroom.  Go back to sleep,” says Ann.  “Is your brother home?” I ask, trying to keep the edge out of my voice.  “I don’t know, his door’s shut,” she says sleepily.  “Honey, knock on his door,” I say.  “Ma..”  she whines, but does it anyway.  No answer.  I get up to look out the window.  His car is not in the driveway.  Shit.  Shit.  Shit.  My mind races from one scary possibility to the next.

4:27am  “Ann.”  “Ma, what??  I’m sleeping!”  “Your brother hasn’t come home.  Do you know where he went last night?”  “When does he ever tell me anything?”  

5:09am  I pace the floor.  It’s too early to start calling his friends.  Ann suggests I send text messages but she has to help me because I’ve never done that before.  She texts Marcus, Sara, Jeff, and a few others with the message, “Have u seen Joe?”  I try to check his email but I don’t know his password.  Ann checks his myspace page but comes up with nothing.  Coffee.  I need coffee.  Ann goes back to bed. 

5:48am  Headlights across the front window.  A car door slams.  Dear God, please let it be my Joey and not the police.  Please, please, please.  I fly to the front door and throw it open.  Oh, thank God, it’s him!  My baby, my boy.  “Where the HELL have you been?” I demand, as I shove him in the chest with both hands. “Ma, chill out.  I fell asleep at Sara’s watching tv.  I’m sorry,” he says, his eyes puffy and his clothes crumpled.  “Dammit, Joe, I was just about to call the police,” I say, and start to cry.  “Ma..” he says and puts his arms around me, his little mama.  He is a good 6 inches taller than I am.  Ann comes down the stairs and says, “Welcome home, jackass.”  

 

Do you like to write?  If so, try this fun weekly exercise and be sure to link back here so I can read what you’ve written!