It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week, hosted by Sheila from Book Journey. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.
I'm reading The Clouds Beneath the Sun by Mackenzie Ford. Mackenzie Ford is the is the nom de plume of Peter Watson, a well-known and respected historian whose books are published in twenty languages. He wrote Gifts of War, which I loved.
Publisher's brief scoop -- An exotic setting and a passionate, forbidden affair make The Clouds Beneath the Sun an irresistible page-turner that is sure to satisfy readers looking for an intelligent blend of history, romance, and intrigue. great for a reading group pick!
The beginning lines.
The Kenya-Tanganyika border
The Land Rover juddered to a halt. Natalie Nelson jolted her head on the side window and was shaken awake. "What's the matter, Mutevu? Why are you stopping? Watch out for that termite mound! Have we got a flat tire? What's wrong?"
Natalie was weary -- no, she was drained, exhausted, spent, and this delay was too much. She'd been traveling without sleep now for more than twenty-three hours, since she had left Cambridge sometime yesterday, and she was anxious, longing, desperate, to reach Kihara camp.
What are you reading this week?
I'm looking forward to The Wave by Susan Casey (September 2010). The ocean is such a incredible part of nature and can be utterly destructive.
Scoop from publisher.
From Susan Casey, bestselling author of The Devil’s Teeth, an astonishing book about colossal, ship-swallowing rogue waves and the surfers who seek them out.
For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100-feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dismissed these stories—waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. But in the past few decades, as a startling number of ships vanished and new evidence has emerged, oceanographers realized something scary was brewing in the planet’s waters. They found their proof in February 2000, when a British research vessel was trapped in a vortex of impossibly mammoth waves in the North Sea—including several that approached 100 feet.
As scientists scramble to understand this phenomenon, others view the giant waves as the ultimate challenge. These are extreme surfers who fly around the world trying to ride the ocean’s most destructive monsters. The pioneer of extreme surfing is the legendary Laird Hamilton, who, with a group of friends in Hawaii, figured out how to board suicidally large waves of 70 and 80 feet. Casey follows this unique tribe of people as they seek to conquer the holy grail of their sport, a 100 foot wave.
In this mesmerizing account, the exploits of Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists’ urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves—from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740-foot-wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast.
Like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.
I grew up in Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay and now live on the Eastern Shore -- the Bay on one side, Tte Atlantic Ocean on the other. Water, everywhere! Sailing, crabs, beach, and awesome wildlife. And, terrible floods, changing currents resulting in water-logged towns, eroding beaches, and sometimes, drownings. The Wave will be informative, scary and amazing!
Here's the book trailer.
Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading hosted by Bermudaonion.
If you want to play along, grab the button, and join the fun! (Don’t forget to leave a link in the comments if you’re participating.)
My words are names of people in the art world that I didn't know from By NIghtfall by Michael Cunningham (Octocber 2010). I am totally clueless when it comes to art. Yes, I know Rembrandt, Picasso, Constable, Manet, Monet, -- the oldies but goodies. It is the contempory artists I don't know and I felt very unsophisticated and dumb when reading By Nightfall.
Here is three of the many artists that Michael Cunningham threw at me.
Walker Evans -- An American photographer, (1903-1975) was best known for his photographs of American life between the world wars. Everyday objects and people - the urban and rural poor, abandoned buildings, storefronts, street signs, and the like - are encapsulated in his laconic images.
John Currin -- (1962 -- ) is an American painter. He is best known for satirical figurative paintings which deal with provocative sexual and social themes in a technically skillful manner. He often distorts or exaggerates the erotic forms of the female body.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres -- (1957-1996) was a Cuban artist who grew up in Puerto before moving to NYC. He was known for his quiet, minimal installations and sculptures. Using materials such as strings of lightbulbs, clocks, stacks of paper, or packaged hard candies, Felix Gonzalez-Torres's work is sometimes considered a reflection of his experience with AIDS.
Do you have new words you have encountered when reading? Has a author used many words. names, places, that you didn't know and turned you off because of that?
This is a great reading group activity -- good books, good friends, good cause!
Inspired by readers around the world who have embraced and shared Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Riverhead Books is asking for your help in an effort to picture a book changing lives.
Penguin is launching the Picture a Book Changing Lives campaign to raise money for the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, which was founded by the author to aid the people of Afghanistan. The Foundation supports projects that provide shelter to refugee families and economic and educational opportunities for women and children. The Foundation also awards scholarships to students who have migrated to the U.S. under refugee status and women pursuing higher education in Afghanistan.
Under the Picture a Book Changing Lives campaign, people may submit one or two still photos of themselves reading or holding a copy of Hosseini's The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns. For each such photo uploaded to the Hosseini group page of Penguin, Riverhead is donating $2 to the Foundation, up to $25,000. The campaign runs through August 31.
Geoffrey Kloske, v-p and publisher of Riverhead, commented, "Khaled Hosseini's books have changed the way many around the world picture Afghanistan, so it's a great opportunity to give his readers a way to help raise money that will benefit the people of that country."
Reading Local Giving Global!
July 11 is the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic. Featuring some of the most memorable characters in literary history—attorney Atticus Finch, his children Scout and Jem, and of course Boo Radley—To Kill a Mockingbird is the indelible story of race, class, and growing up in the Deep South of the 1930s. Great reading group discussion topics!
To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, and been made into an enormously popular movie.
When did you first read To Kill a Mockingbird? What did it mean to you? Does the book have any relevance today? Did you see the movie before you read the book? Was the movie true to the book? Would you read and discuss the book for one of your book club meetings?
Please take a moment to write your thoughts on the 50th anniversary of this well-loved classic.
Wondrous Words Wednesday, hosted by Bermudaonion, is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. If you want to play along, grab the button, and join the fun! (Don’t forget to leave a link in the comments if you’re participating.)
Here's my WWW, today! From the context of the sentence, I could figured the definition but it was still a new word for me.
craquelure (n) -- the network of fine cracks found on the surface of some oil paintings, caused primarily by the shrinkage of aging paint, varnish, and ground.
"So buy the gold, warm it up with your skin, slip it onto your lap when you are sitting by the fire and all you will otherwise have to look at is your splintery husband gumming chew or the craquelure of your own chapped hands." -- Tinkers by Paul Harding
Author On the Bookcase
Emily Gray Tedrowe
With pleasure, I welcome Emily Gray Tedrowe, author of Commuters. Emily's novel traces a year in the life of two families thrown together by the sudden marriage of their oldest members. Commuters is a tale of love, family dynamics, money, and surprising alliances. And food! Emily writes about her character Avery's obsession with food, how it guides his some of his decisions, and how memorable meals can define one's life.
"When it came to food,” my character Avery thinks, “food that he would be eating or just in the presence of, he just couldn’t abide any interference or outside opinions.” I’m not that bad, but I understand the obsession. Avery is 20 years old, an ex-drug addict, who stumbles on the crazy-genius idea of opening his own place in New York City—world capital for dashed dreams of restauranteurs. He is also food-possessed and food-besotted; cooking is one of the (PG-rated) ways he shows love for his sexy older girlfriend, it’s how he tries to make his grandfather proud of him. It’s the lens through which he sees the world. As the characters of Commuters argue about whether a historic tree should be cut down to make way for a pool, Avery cooks. As they fight over money, get ill or get well, buy houses and sell houses, he eats. The more other people talk and talk around him, the more Avery is drawn to the heft of a good chef’s knife, the timing of a perfect popover, or the dizzying glory of a nine-course Michelin-star meal.
Avery’s deep passion for food is perhaps not the main story line in my novel, which traces a year in the life of two families thrown together by the sudden marriage of their oldest members. But as I worked on the book, I came to look forward to writing these “foodie scenes” more and more. Contrary to what several people have guessed, however, I myself am not a foodie. I cook, sure, but my repertoire tends toward simple pastas or beans and rice. Though going out for dinner is a favorite activity, I wonder if I don’t enjoy the atmosphere and the conversation (and the wine) as much as the meal I order. Readers occasionally ask, then, how I came up with the details of Avery’s dream profession—not to mention some of the crazier dishes he concocts, like those Thanksgiving sweet potatoes he doses with lemon juice, Canadian bacon, apple chunks, and “tiny nuggets of jellied goose fat.”
Though I’ve never worked as a chef, I spent several years waitressing in a wide variety of New York City restaurants. And as anyone who’s done that job can attest, you get to see the cooks really up close and personal—not in a camera-ready faux-villain TV-chef way, but as overworked men (they are mostly men) who are driven as hell and suffer for their art. Yes, they can be cocky jerks because it goes with the territory. But I came to admire the grace under pressure and toughness of spirit in those nearest to the brutally hot stoves; I tried to show that Avery has the possibility to develop these qualities someday.
Another way I prepared for writing Commuters’ food-enraptured scenes is by indulging one of my strange proclivities: I love to read about food while I eat. I’ll flip through a cookbook and linger on a twenty-step recipe for beef bourguignon while eating a veggie burger. I like a snack of saltine crackers smeared with cream cheese while studying Cook’s Illustrated on the proper technique for interweaving lattice strips on top of a fruit pie; my leftover black beans and mango in a tortilla tastes better if I’m also reading a review of the newest Chicago hotspot for fusion cuisine. Though I’ve done this for many years, I only realized how useful my weird meta-food reading habit could be when I based so much of Avery’s action and decisions on his relationship with food.
As I write this, it strikes me that my own most memorable meals have to do with the stories of my life. They are a key to who I am, and who I’ve been. Of many, these stand out:
- Lunch on the frigid January day my husband and I proposed to each other; the iced-over trees outside the window; I couldn’t eat anything from excitement but he devoured a bowl of chili—awkwardly holding the spoon because his right hand wouldn’t let go of my hand, wearing its new ring.
- The forbidden sandwiches Andrea the pizza man would slip me when I gave him the signal—thick slices of fresh mozzarella toasted on a split roll, black from the heat of the oven. Not supposed to eat on my shift, I would hunch down behind the waitress stand and work fast, burning my tongue, fortifying myself for the next few hours.
- Long weekend breakfasts at tiny Kitchenette in TriBeCa—eggs, pancakes, juice and coffee—with my two best friends. Having jogged there via the Hudson River path, we immediately demolished any benefit of the exercise, but talked and laughed enough to burn more than a few calories.
- Pancakes each time my dad was in charge of dinner; hot dogs for the nights my parents had evening plans and a babysitter on the way.
• A bottle of cheap champagne and a single tin of pricy caviar. I took them with me onto the fire escape on the first night in the first (and only) apartment I lived in by myself. Opening both items, sans correct tools, took a while. One tentative fingerscoopful of fish eggs. Caviar, I thought. Strange. Kind of gross. Instead I drank too-sweet wine straight from the bottle and watched cars flowing west and east on Houston Street, five stories below.
One of the coolest book club activities I’ve heard about is when a group makes food to accompany the book they are discussing, or meets at a restaurant that reflects the characters or the story. I’d be really interested to hear what food you think goes with Commuters—and also fascinated to learn about some of your memorable meals . . . as well as the stories they tell. Happy reading . . . and bon appetit!
Emily Gray Tedrowe lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters. Her short fiction has appeared in Other Voices and the Crab Orchard Review.
Thanks, Emily, for sharing your thoughs of food and life and one idea for a Food by the Book discussion -- "Thanksgiving sweet potatoes he doses with lemon juice, Canadian bacon, apple chunks, and “tiny nuggets of jellied goose fat!"
Check out Emily's website.
What's your memorable story surrounding a meal?
Author On the Bookcase
(Mary Bly Vettori)
I'm thrilled to welcome Eloisa James to On the Bookcase. Eloisa's new novel, A Kiss at Midnight, is the fairy tale, Cinderella, re-examined in Regency England! What if Cinderella doesn't want to go to the ball and the Prince is engaged to another? Eloisa chats about her "steady diet of fairy tales" growing up and the inspiration to write A Kiss at Midnight "Rather than creating a saccharine sweet version of the original story, I tried to think about the choices my characters had," comments Eloisa.
Thanks for the chance to look at fairy tales in a new way, Eloisa!
I grew up on a steady diet of fairy tales. My parents read them aloud to us, and then sprinkled Arthur Lang’s Blue, Green, Brown Fairy Books around the house. But much more importantly, fairy tales truly interested my father, Robert Bly. Years later, when I was in graduate school, he wrote a long analysis of one such story, called Iron John. When I was a child, he was just breaking in the fairy tale analysis, as it were. I have a distinct memory of being challenged to give a psychological explanation of the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.
I haven’t the faintest idea what I said. What I do remember is my father saying with real surprise in his voice: “That was brilliant. You’re a natural!” My father is a poet and a deeply loving father—but at times he was so enchanted by words that he didn’t truly notice the children milling about him. I rejoiced in having caught his attention, and I don’t suppose it will surprise anyone to learn that I’m now a professor of English literature, teaching Shakespeare. While I am not interested in the kind of cultural analysis my father did, I inherited his fascination with the complexity of literary texts.
Throughout my years as an English literature professor, I have carried on something of a double life—moonlighting as an author of popular romance fiction. I love to bring together my two wildly disparate careers, spinning romances from plots that were first created in the 1600s, or weaving lines from Romeo and Juliet into a mass-market novel.
My current novel, A Kiss at Midnight, goes even further back than my career as a Shakespeare scholar: it’s my own version of Cinderella. It seems a natural development from my childhood to write my own version of a fairy story. After all, having parents who prompted me to analyze fairy stories means that I found myself wondering what on earth that prince was thinking to choose his wife at a ball? Would I accept a man who could recognize me by the size of foot? (Answer: Absolutely not.) And just how evil was that evil stepmother?
I had a wonderful time writing A Kiss at Midnight. My heroine Kate is a feisty, funny version of Cinderella: not a victimized scullery girl, but a young woman placed in an awful situation, and making the best of it. My fairy godmother, though she doesn’t wave a wand, is just the kind of godmother we all wish we had. And the Prince…well, Gabriel turned out to have many reasons for that ball, and falling in love with Kate was not one of them. I tried to take my father’s lessons to heart: rather than creating a saccharine sweet version of the original story, I tried to think about the choices my characters had. I think I succeeded; Publishers’ Weekly said A Kiss at Midnight is “a candy floss comic romp around a core of heartache.”
If your group ends up discussing this novel, you might want to talk about the nature of evil, and just what makes Kate’s stepmother truly evil. Another question: do you think Kate should have left home earlier? Where does one separate responsibilities from a wish for a life of one’s own?
I do hope you enjoy A Kiss at Midnight, if your book club chooses to read it.
Such an interesting look on an old favorite and plenty of book group discussion points! Thanks so much, Eloisa.
Author of the 4 romance series, Desperate Duchesses, The Essex Sisters, The Duchess Quartet, and The Pleasures Trilogy, Eloisa is a professor of English literature, teaching Shakespeare.
Check out Eloisa's website!
Do you have a favorite fairy tale? How would you retell the story?
Author On the Bookcase
Ayelet Waldman, author of a new book Red Hook Road, writes about questions that readers asks of authors. And, the one answer she is too embarrassed to tell.
"There comes a moment at every literary event, a moment every author dreads, when the lights go up and the Q&A starts. The vast majority of the Q is fine (I can’t speak for the A, you’ll have to be the judge). What book am I reading now, when did I first want to become a writer, how do my children feel about the title of my last book. I like those Qs. I like especially the Qs that haven’t been asked before, the ones that give me a chance to depart from my practiced answers. I’m not as fond of the Q that begins with some version of, "I hated this book, but not as much as I loathed your last one," but I can handle that. (I find it usually helps to agree with the person and to suggest alternatives. Ian McEwan never disappoints.)
The Q I loath and despise, the Q every single writer I know loathes and despises, is this one:
Where, the reader asks, do you get your ideas?
It’s a simple question, and my usual response is a kind of helpless, "I don’t know." But I do know. I’m just embarrassed to tell you. I get my ideas from you, or from your mother, or from someone else I run across to whom something bizarre or sad has happened, someone whose life is miserable, but in an interesting way. "Write What You Know," goes the old adage, but once you’ve written about what an unloved geek and freak you were in high school (and every writer I know claims to have been the most unhappy teenager who ever lived. Where were these people when I was sitting alone at the lunch table at George Washington Jr. High? I’d like to know. Couldn’t we have been sitting together?), once you’ve mined the exciting tale of your grandmother/grandfather’s immigration to America from Russia/Italy/China/Vietnam, once you’ve spent an entire novel complaining about how much it sucks to have to wake up in the middle of the night with the baby, then what?
I’ll tell you what. Other people’s misfortune. That’s where we get those ideas that inspire us (and, we hope, you). Most writers spend their lives standing a little apart from the crowd, watching and listening and hoping to catch that tiny hint of despair, that sliver of malice, that makes them think, Aha, here is the story.
My new novel, Red Hook Road, began many years ago as a short article in the newspaper. A bride and a groom (or was it the groom and the best man?) were killed on their way from the church to the reception, when a speeding car smashed into their limousine. The horror of that happening on that day, at that moment, when you are about to embark on a completely new life, where everything is possible and the future is all that is on your mind... that stuck with me for years. I’d think of it time and again, as anyone would.
A normal person thinks about that tragedy, and maybe gets sad all over again. A writer thinks of it and wonders, "Can I use this?"
Until one day, you can, and you do."
This is a little bit of Pat Conroy's review of Red Hook Road.
In her latest novel, Red Hook Road, Ayelet Waldman has nailed the indelible mark that the state of Maine leaves on all visitors who fall for its subtle, insinuating glamour. Red Hook Road is a terrific novel, and might even be a great one.
... The structure of Red Hook Road is so perfect that I didn’t initially notice the sacred reverence for the beauty of wood both families share. The people of coastal Maine are aficionados of wooden boats, and their harbors fill up with boats that perform the same service as the highest works of art. The same joy of perfect woodwork manifests itself in Kimmelbrod as he cradles his Dembovski or considers the famous violins of Giussupe Guarneri del Gesu. You learn in this book that there is a strange kinship in the mahogany fittings of yachts and the lacquered pear wood of violins -- Red Hook Road is an intricate dance between art and nature, between foreignness and belonging, between still waters and storm.