Category Archives: Authors

The Real in Fiction: Emily Rapp’s “Notes of a Dragon Mom”

Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.

-Emily Rapp, “Notes of a Dragon Mom”

This article made me think of Leah Hager Cohen’s The Grief of Others, the way knowing your child will die can change you, change everything. The way saying that and knowing that seems like the most obvious, silly observation, and yet you can’t stop looking away, can’t stop observing the ruins. While this is different in its truth, its realness, it is the gut from which Cohen’s story — and stories like it — come. And seeing a woman of letters write about the experience in a way that can communicate and empathize with others in situations similar and startlingly different is why I write. It’s why I read. It’s like those zombie films (I’ve been watching The Walking Dead, forgive me), where all they really know to do is search for anyone — everyone — who is, like them, still alive despite it all.

This is a love story, and like all great love stories, it is a story of loss. Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.

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Review: The Grief of Others

I’ll be honest – it was the cover of Leah Hager Cohen’s The Grief of Others that made me pick it up off the library display table. It looked like the cover on some movie, which is usually a deterrent, but there was something eerie but welcoming about this one. I mean look at it, you want to enter but you know there’s a chance you might never leave.

Having read the book now, it’s funny that that was my initial reaction. Characters are drawn to this house, as I was to its image. As though Lady Liberty herself stood on their front lawn, the Ryries’ house draws suffering to it. Whether Cohen is saying that misery does indeed love company, or it is only by empathizing and witnessing the suffering of others that we can truly heal, she does so with a light pen.
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The Boston Book Fest is tomorrow!

And like last year, I’m overwhelmed by the sessions I want to attend. I’ve more than procrastinated, and now I’m scrambling to figure out what will take priority. Last year, my favorite parts were the fiction open mic where Steve Almond gave quick feedback to aspiring writers who read aloud in front of the group, and Joyce Carol Oates’ keynote that closed out the day.

Here’s what I’m thinking for this year’s Boston Book Fest:

Fiction: Time is…

12:45pm Old South Church Sanctuary 645 Boylston Street

A river? A prison? Money? Jennifer Egan says time’s a goon in her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad. Our times seem particularly trying, what with economic and political turmoil and major transformations to the very way we define ourselves. Egan’s novel, Peter Mountford‘s debut A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, and Lawrence Douglas‘s The Vices take in the recent past as well as the near future, and span Europe, the US, and South America as they reflect on our world. Moderated by Henriette Lazaridis Power, editor of The Drum.

Flash Fiction Open Mic

2:00pm Old South Church Mary Norton Hall 645 Boylston Street

It’s your turn behind the microphone in this flash-fiction recording session. There’s no need to sign up ahead of time–just take a number when you arrive, and be ready to step up to the mic and read your very, very short story out loud for an eager audience. The Drum, an audio literary magazine, will be recording each story, choosing the best ones for publication in the magazine. Each piece must be no longer than three minutes, so rehearse! Emceed by Henriette Lazaridis Power, editor of The Drum.

New England Stories: Readings in the Forum

2:15pm Trinity Church Forum 206 Clarendon Street

Authors whose spellbinding stories take place in New England read from their work. Holly LeCraw‘s searing debut novel, The Swimming Pool, is an intimate portrait of a family drama. British-born author James MacManus‘s beautifully crafted debut novel The Languages of the Sea brings Celtic myth to New England waters. Dawn Tripp, in her assured third novel Game of Secrets, weaves a tale of murder, romance, and family secrets in a small New England town. Hosted by Michelle Hoover, whose latest novel is The Quickening.

Local Talent: Readings in the Forum

4:15pm Trinity Church Forum 206 Clarendon Street

Two talented debut authors and one local favorite read from their new works of fiction. The inimitable Steve Almond, author of My Life in Heavy Metal and Candyfreak, called “strangely endearing” by Publishers Weekly, will read from his latest, a short story collection titled God Bless AmericaLaura Harrington will read from Alice Bliss, her heartbreaking debut novel about a teenage girl whose father is deployed to Iraq. Michael Klein will read from Something for Nothing, his amusingly trenchant debut novel about the trials of a small town economics professor. Hosted by novelist and TV host Kim McLarin.

Other interesting sessions at the Book Fest…

Alone Together: Anti-Social Networks?

Fiction: Truth and Consequences: Authors who write from the headlines
True Story: Three wildly different amazing-but-true stories from masters of the craft.

Memoir: Writing a Life: Hear from four memoirists whose styles range from poignant to hilarious.

One City, One Story: This year’s story is Richard Russo’s “The Whore’s Child,” which I read on the train one morning on the way to work. A great story, but unfortunately this overlaps with the local talent readings, so I’ll have to miss it.

What are your favorite sessions at book fests? Will I see you there tomorrow?

Check out the Boston Book Festival 2011 entire schedule.


Fox News endorses Steve Almond’s new book

Genius book trailer here for Steve Almond‘s newest book of short stories. I’ll let you find out the title from the video…

If you’re as excited as I am now, come see him read at the Boston Book Festival (October 15th!) or at Porter Square Books on November 28th.

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A World Unrecognizable: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Did you grow up religious? I was raised in a cocktail of Catholicism (my mom) and Southern Baptism (my dad’s side), so whether or not I consider myself either of these things, my perspective and ideas of the world are colored by my experiences with both. Perhaps this is why books with premises like The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta are particularly fascinating to me. Most Christians believe in God and Jesus as the one way to Heaven, the one true belief. Possibilities such as the botched Rapture that occurs in Perrotta’s novel may well be considered blasphemous, propaganda from an unbelieving public.

As I read, I slipped back and forth between the two perspectives. I wondered what my family would think of this book, what my childhood pastors would say about my reading this type of fiction. And I realized that perhaps it is this type of fiction, this type of reaction that fuels my love for the art. Sure, non-fiction causes all kinds of controversy these days, but fiction allows us to live out lives we can never know. It allows us to flesh out ideas, theories about our beliefs, our experiences, our flickers of thought. We can anticipate human reactions to horrible situations without actually having to live through an apocalypse or a Rapture. We can process our real lives in a realm that is safe, a petri dish of imagination.
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Tom Perrotta’s coming!

I just found out that Tom Perrotta is going to be at Harvard Bookstore on Monday, September 19th! I’ve been loving the book (almost halfway through it!), and I’m excited to be able to hear it read by the author and ask him some questions about it. I met Perrotta at the Boston Book Festival last year. I remember he was quiet and kind and very patient with the line that stretched out behind me. It’s always so encouraging to see someone doing, successfully, what you want to do, isn’t it?

Seen any good authors read lately?

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The Year We Left Home

It seems like forever since I read a book, and that’s probably because it has been. The last book I finished was Joyce Carol Oates’s memoir, A Widow’s Story, oh, a month and a half ago. I’ve been frequenting the library like old times lately, and I picked up Jean Thompson’s The Year We Left Home. She’s written familiar books such as Do Not Deny Me and Throw Like a Girl. It was on display on the New Books table and because of it’s interesting cover (so sue me!), I picked it up. Don’t you love the lack of consequences when you impulse grab things at the library? Me too.

Thompson’s novel is structured by year and character. Throughout the novel, we travel to different parts of the country, getting good clues as to the political and economic climate of the country as well as the family that the novel chronicles. Thompson is strongest when she’s in the characters’ minds. Each section is written in third person limited, and the outcome is beautiful. Set in a rural farmtown in Iowa, the story starts out in 1973, mostly between Ryan and his cousin Chip, recently returned from Vietnam. Their exchange in Ryan’s truck, smoking weed, takes place as much in what Ryan doesn’t say as in what the two do say to one another. This introduction to both characters sets up an understanding of the family they come from that is essential to the novel.

My favorite part about the novel’s structure was the way it dipped in and out of each character’s life, showed us glimpses that we return to later in the book, decades later. The first half of the novel’s sections end cliffhanger style. There’s a build-up of suspense that creates a sort of sigh of relief sensation when you realize you’ve reached the half of the book that ties up those loose endings. But there is nothing particularly neat about Thompson’s ties. There are lives forever changed by tragedy that we get to see once the initial support of the community dies down and the family is left to fend for itself. We are not present for every character’s trajectory of growth, and so it seems that it’s the circumstances rather than the journey that Thompson wanted us to focus on. Once history begins, there is no changing it until you are on the other side of it, still alive.

I read this book in less than two weeks. It wasn’t too demanding as far as focus, so it’d make a good beach or commute read. Up next is Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life. Guh, doesn’t the title just give you goosebumps?!

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I’m letting bygones be bygones. AKA this week. Sorry for the lack of posting/reviews as I promised. The sun came out this week, my bike, notebook, and camera beckoned, and I answered the call.

But if you’re wanting a quick literary pick-me-up before you go enjoy the sunshine yourself this three day weekend, I can’t recommend “Fly” by Julie Innis at Fwriction:Review enough. Please, please, please do yourself a favor, and read it.

I promise you'll fall in love.

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Can’t wait to read: MORE non-fiction

Guys, I don’t know what’s happening. All of a sudden I can’t get enough real life. Well, let’s clarify: I can’t get enough of other people’s real life. I’m all set with my real life.

I got a NY Times Books Update today whetting my appetite for the newest non-fiction gem I plan to devour (wow, way too many metaphors). Harold Bloom‘s The Anatomy of Influence is described as such:

At the age of 80, with almost 40 books behind him and nearly as many accumulated honors, Harold Bloom has written, in “The Anatomy of Influence,” a kind of summing-up — or, as he puts it in his distinctive idiom, mixing irony with histrionism, “my virtual swan song,” born of his urge “to say in one place most of what I have learned to think about how influence works in imaginative literature.”

I could hear your breath quicken. But get in line, I already requested it from Winchester Public Library.

(photo via)

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Where We Live: Book Recommendations

I love book recommendations, and I have a select group of people (and sites) where I get this information. Today, I gchatted with one such friend (we’ll call her Crunch), and she gushed about the biography she’s currently reading about Edna St. Vincent Millay: Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford. Some of my friend’s gushings:

I started reading the biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay yesterday and Nancy Milford, her biographer (who also wrote Zelda, which is one of my favorite books of all time) has this amazing introduction about what it means to be a biographer and how strange it is to take on someone else’s life. She works with Norma, Edna’s sister, and Norma sounds like an outrageous personality herself it’s just like … strength and womanhood and sex and literature (and eventually depression, I haven’t reached that part yet). It sounds like she had an affair with Georgia O’keefe.

From Notable Biographies: “Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American lyric (expressing direct and personal feeling) poet whose personal life and verse reflected the attitudes of rebellious youth during the 1920s.”

I love book recommendations that represent the recommender well, highlighting aspects of her personality that I am acquainted with and enamored of. The youth and vitality that seems to be celebrated by this particular poet and biography subject remind me of Crunch and several of our other friends.

What aspects of books you recommend are insights into your personality?

(Photo via)

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