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Author On the Bookcase: Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Author On the Bookcase

Aimee Bender

Aimee BernderWelcome, Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake! Aimee tell us about her book group of over 10 years. The first book discussion was Thomas Pynchon’s book Gravity’s Rainbow. Now, that's a heavy book, both in weight and subject! Learn how her book group broke down the 700+ page book. They definitely had a theme -- they went dancing in Gravity's Rainbow t-shirts! Through the years, Aimee relates how the "discussions of language and reading aloud and free association that includes talking about other books, our lives, specific passages, old TV programs, music," enhances the book conversation. Just like book groups everywhere -- finding the relevance to our world in the book! 

Take it away, Aimee!

My Book Group

"There was a very funny article in The Onion a bunch of years ago about a book group that after twenty minutes dissolved into a two hour discussion of Oscar contenders. So, I’ve had that book group experience, yes. I, too, have lots of opinions about Oscar contenders. But on the whole: I’m a fan of the concept. I’m very glad they exist.  I also appreciate the common combo of book group and delicious meal.

I’ve been a part of a book group for over ten years now, one made up of friends largely from my MFA time. Sometimes I find reading so private I don’t actually want to hear a lot of different opinions about what I just read for awhile—I want to stew on it on my own first-- but there are books I want to read that I am certain I will not, and cannot, read alone. Years ago, I’d heard talk of Thomas Pynchon’s book Gravity’s Rainbow, but when I picked it up on a shelf at a bookstore, by the end of page one I thought: there is no possible way I can read this by myself. A friend and teacher at UC Irvine, writer Michelle Latiolais, had once mentioned she’d love to put together a Gravity’s Rainbow class taught by both writers and physicists. Her idea stuck with me, and a year or so later, I made some calls and put an ad in the Cal Tech newsletter, asking interested parties to come join a new book group.  (And as I write this I am realizing that this does relate to my new book, as Cal Tech plays a small role there, and it’s a school I find very beautiful, with jacaranda trees lining the campus, and turtle ponds, containing real turtles.)

I was living in West Hollywood at the time, in a small one bedroom, and I got a lot of calls from Cal Tech students (this was 1999) and interest from some writer-type friends, and I told everyone to read chapter one, cleaned up my apartment, and stood at the door on the first afternoon, wondering who in the world might come.

Strangers and friends climbed the whitewashed stairs, stood by the cheese tray, chatted. ‘I saw the ad,’ explained the scientists, and it was like early internet dating, for book compatibility. By twenty minutes in, about twenty people had shown up: around ten physicists, and ten literary types: poets, fiction writers, a few lit crit people. We squished into my living room, sitting on the floor because I had nowhere near enough chairs, and went around the room and introduced ourselves: hi I’m Jane, I write sestinas, Hi, I’m Tom, I work with robots. It was like travel, like finding oneself in a new country hearing a new language.

Gravity’s Rainbow has a lot of rocket science in it, as Pynchon used to study physics himself, and worked for Boeing as a technical writer, and it was immediately helpful to have the scientists explaining that realm. We planned to meet weekly, on Sunday evenings.

The thing is, Gravity’s Rainbow is long, 700 plus pages, and I couldn’t read more than 30 pages a week, and even that felt challenging to me, so it took almost a year for us to finish the book, which we completed by designing a t-shirt (with five zeroes on the front and a great rocket drawing on the back, which we made a big effort to try to get to Pynchon though I don’t think we ever did) and going out dancing. A couple scientists wore capes.

Book group attrition was high, and by the end, what had once been a mighty twenty had become seven or eight, but those seven or eight read carefully, and enthusiastically, and I have lines and lines of carefully inscribed margin notes in my copy of the book. On the whole, it was a great experience. It was just that: an experience.

One science/literary couple did form, but after we finished, new activities cropped up for everyone and I lost touch with most of the people. A small version of the rest of the group plowed on, taking on Tristram Shandy next, (all of this helping to fill in the major, major gaps I have in my reading) and we continue to read books none of us might willingly tackle solo, and the best discussions have come from intricate discussions of language and reading aloud and free association that includes talking about other books, our lives, specific passages, old TV programs, music, the works. Whatever we can grab onto that gets us closer to the book. It’s a great way to see friends, a tremendous potluck, and I love it."

The Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThanks so much, Aimee, for sharing your book group experiences with us. Check out The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Great discussible topics -- family, food, coming of age, with a little bit of magic!

See more on Aimee's website.

Have you had a large book that your group needed more than one month to read and discuss? Tell us your story.

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Author On the Bookcase: Heather Barbieri, author of The Lace Makers of Glenmara

Author On the Bookcase

Heather Barbieri

Heather BarbieriI'm thrilled to welcome Heather Barbieri, author of The Lace Makers of Glenmara. to On the Bookcase. Heather tells the story of her grandmother, Esther, and her mother, Michelle, and the joy of reading they shared with her. As a result, Heather's childhood was filled with books as Heather read from "quiet corners—behind the Christmas tree (the lights were particularly magical to read by) or the sofa (not on the sofa, behind it, right by the heat register)"

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Heather!

"Who instilled a love of reading in you? A teacher? A parent? A bookseller or librarian?

For me, it was my mother and grandmother, who escaped from difficult childhoods within the pages of Little Women, Great Expectations, and Hans Christian Andersen. My mother, Michelle, as solace for being the child of divorced parents, at times written off by the nuns at her parochial school as the product of a broken home; my grandmother, Esther, for a life filled with far too many tragedies.

After losing both her parents at a young age, Esther climbed into the branches of her “Scottish tree” with a novel from her grandmother Frances’ library. Frances wasn’t a kindly sort of grandmother by any means. A formidable woman to say the least, she’d been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, whose family had fallen on hard times after moving to the States and making—and losing—a fortune in the oyster business. Yet she had her books, shelves filled with leather-tooled, gilt covers; novels mostly—she liked a good story, perhaps needing an escape herself. Of the  twelve children she bore, only four survived. What with her husband being an alcoholic, she was left to run the household herself—and she did, with an iron hand.

My grandmother didn’t fit in with her idea of what made a lady. Esther’s sister, Ruth, was considered the beauty of the family. Esther grew up feeling chubby and plain, with fiery red hair and a temper to match. That she didn’t hear well—due to a childhood illness—didn’t help matters; she was only considered more intractable, eventually sent away to live with distant, at times abusive, relatives, then on to boarding school.

Books offered her an alternative world. They provided adventure, hope, and comfort her entire life—through an early marriage at 17, the death of her first child a year-and-a-half later, and a divorce at a time when divorces were nearly unheard of.

I had a relatively idyllic childhood by comparison, and yet books became my early companions too. An only child for over six years before my younger sisters were born, I loved to curl up in quiet corners—behind the Christmas tree (the lights were particularly magical to read by) or the sofa (not on the sofa, behind it, right by the heat register) on rainy afternoons. Many times, I’d read through the night, by the light of the bathroom fixture across the hall (that I was afraid of the dark came in handy), or later, after my parents went to bed—my dad’s thunderous snores shaking the house—the bedside lamp.

The books came from the Pioneer Elementary library (the librarian, Mrs. Davis, whom we not-too kindly dubbed Mrs. Skunk on account of the wide streak of white in her beehive, hid the much-sought-after copy of Judy Bloom’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret—because the author dared write about periods, the kind that had nothing to do with punctuation); Weekly Reader book order forms (which, to my delight, were heavy on mysteries at the time); the old Carnegie library downtown, a leaning tower of bookdom straight out of a Lemony Snicket novel; and much-anticipated holiday presents (my mother had excellent taste; several of her selections became favorites, especially the work of British authors Joan Aiken and Elizabeth Goudge). And, of course, from my grandmother’s and mother’s bookcases; they both had a fondness for sweeping sagas, such as The Thorn Birds, Trinity, and anything by Herman Wouk). Even now, my mother and I share book recommendations. (Her most recent favorite: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.) We can’t stop reading.

The Lace Makers of GlenmaraNow that I’m a writer myself, fulfilling a life-long dream, I’m continually in awe of the wide variety of voices at work in fiction—and nonfiction—today. There’s always a new story to tell—and book to read. I hope that, like my grandmother and mother, you too are transported, that The Lace Makers of Glenmara gives you a window into another way of life—and into your own."

Thanks again, Heather! More on Heather.

Who instilled your joy of reading?


Barbara's picture

First Day of Summer and Winner of SUMMER AT TIFFANY Giveaway

First Day of Summer  -- and the feeling is easy!



Do you remember the best summer of your life? The winner of a copy of SUMMER AT TIFFANY by Marjorie Hart and the pink "diamond" keychain is                      

                     REBECCA B.

Congrats, Rebecca! I have emailed you. Once I have your address, I will send the goodies. 

Happy First Summer Day and here is Rebecca's comment of her "best summer." And, Rebecca has mentioned one of my favorite book series in her piece -- go, Nancy Drew!

"My best Summer Vacation was at Long Beach, North Carolina, when I was 16 or 17 years old. My parents took my best friend, Freida and I to a cabin owned by my daddy's best friend on the week of the fourth of July. Freida and I had the best time arriving at the beach and looking at the waves hitting against the sand, and the ocean beyond with the shrimp boats at a distance.

After a restful sleep, we would go with my mother to collect seashells early in the morning. We collected various, beautiful seashells, such as the Devil's Pocketbook and the Starfish shell. Then we had a tasteful breakfast of blueberry pancakes.

We swam in the ocean, sunbathed on the shore, and built sandcastles. Then after lunch, we walked to the pavilion and walked on the Yaupon Pier. Then we ate at the Seafood Restaurant. After walking back to the cabin, we sat on the porch and watched the beautiful sunset. we would read Nancy Drew books and gab until we fell asleep, listening to the peaceful waves.

We enjoyed being together, playing together, and looking at God's beautiful ocean."

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Wondrous Words Wednesday: Pareidolia from The Nobodies Album

Wondrous Words WednesdayWondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme by BermudaOnion's Book Blog where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. 

I only have one word today from The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst.

"Milo's band is called Pareidolia, and they've had a fair bit of success, though whether they're here to stay or are simply the taste of the moment remains to be seen."

pareidolia -- a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, religious figures on pieces of toast, interpreting marks on Mars as canals, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse. 

Have you found a new word in your reading?

Barbara's picture

New Novel by Michael Cunningham: By Nightfall

I got the ARC of By Nighfall, the new Michael Cunningham novel, in the mail! It will be released in October 2010. The Hours by Cunningham was a favorite reading group pick.

Here's the scoop from the publisher.

Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts—he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Then Rebecca’s much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in thefamily as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling twenty-three-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career—the entire world he has so carefully constructed.

Like his legendary, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s masterly new novel is a heartbreaking look at the way we live now. Full of shocks and aftershocks, it makes us think and feel deeply about the uses and meaning of beauty and the place of love in our lives.

Beginning sentences

"The Mistake is coming to stay for a while.

'Are you mad about Mizzy?' Rebecca says.

'Of course not,' Peter answers.

One of the inscrutable old horses that pull tourist carriages has been hit by a car somewhere up on Broadway, which has stopped traffic all the way down to the Port Authority, which is making Peter and Rebecca late."

Did you like The Hours by Cunningham?


Barbara's picture

Teaser Tuesdays June 15: Great House by Nicole Krauss

I've been on vacation so my blog has been on vacation, too! Corolla, NC -- great weather and a good time.

Back to the book business. BEA(BookExpoAmerica) has afforded me some great galleys to look over. Amy from W. W. Norton gave me one that I'm excited to read -- Great House by Nicole Krauss. Krauss' previous novel, The History of Love, is one of my favorite books. Great story and lots of reading group topics to discuss. 

Great HouseSo, my teaser today is the first three sentences of Great House by Nicole Krauss.







"Talk to him.

Your Honor, in the winter of 1972 R and I broke up, or I should say he broke up with me. His reasons were vague, but the gist was that he had a secret self, a cowardly, despicable self he could never show me, and that he needed to go away like a sick animal until he could improve this self and bring it up to a standard deserving of company. I argued with him -- I'd been his girlfriend for almost two years, his secrets were my secrets, if there was something cruel or cowardly in him I of all people would know -- but it was useless. Three weeks after he'd moved out I got a postcard from him (without a return address) saying that he felt our decision, as he called it, hard as it was, had been the right one, and I had to admit to myself that our relationship was over for good."

Here's the dirt on Great House from the publisher.

A powerful, soaring novel about a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through.

For twenty-five years, a solitary American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet's secret police; one day a girl claiming to be his daughter arrives to take it away, sending her life reeling. Across the ocean in London, a man discovers a terrifying secret about his wife of almost fifty years. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer is slowly reassembling his father's Budapest study, plundered by the Nazis in 1944.

These worlds are anchored by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away. In the minds of those it has belonged to, the desk comes to stand for all that has disappeared in the chaos of the world -- children, parents, whole peoples and civilizations.

Nicole Krauss has written a hauntingly powerful novel about memory struggling to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss. (Release: October 2010)

Can't wait to settle down and read this one.

Teaser TuesdayTeaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Do you have a teaser today?

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Teaser Tuesdays June 8: My Hollywood by Mona Simpson

Teaser TuesdayTeaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  1. Grab your current read
  2. Open to a random page
  3. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  4. Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here is mine, today.

Teaser Tuesdays 6/8 My Hollywood by Mona Simpson "My employer, she says when a baby comes home from the hospital, a Filipina should arrive with him. That, for her, would make a perfect world."
-- p.32 Uncorrected Proof of My Hollywood by Mona Simpson (August 2010)

See previous post about My Hollywood.

What's your teaser of the week?


Barbara's picture

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? My Hollywood by Mona Simpson

Just finished The False Friend by Myla Goldberg (October 2010)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?It's Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Sheila (expert blogger!), where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week.  It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

I started My Hollywood by Mona Simpson. (August 2010)

Publishers Summary: A wonderfully provocative and appealing novel, from the much-loved author of Anywhere But Here and A Regular Guy, her first in ten years. It tells the story of two women whose lives entwine and unfold behind the glittery surface of Hollywood.

My HollywoodClaire, a composer and a new mother, comes to LA so her husband can follow his passion for writing television comedy. Suddenly the marriage—once a genuine 50/50 arrangement—changes, with Paul working long hours and Claire left at home with a baby, William, whom she adores but has no idea how to care for.

Lola, a fifty-two-year-old mother of five who is working in America to pay for her own children’s higher education back in the Philippines, becomes their nanny. Lola stabilizes the rocky household and soon other parents try to lure her away. What she sacrifices to stay with Claire and “Williamo” remains her own closely guarded secret.

In a novel at turns satirical and heartbreaking, where mothers’ modern ideas are given practical overhauls by nannies, we meet Lola’s vast network of fellow caregivers, each with her own story to tell. We see the upstairs competition for the best nanny and the downstairs competition for the best deal, and are forced to ask whether it is possible to buy love for our children and what that transaction costs us all.

We look into two contemporary marriages—one in America and one in the Philippines—and witness their endangerment, despite the best of intentions.

My Hollywood is a tender, witty, and resonant novel that provides the profound pleasures readers have come to expect from Mona Simpson, here writing at the height of her powers.

I loved Off Keck Road so looking forward to My Hollywood.



Barbara's picture

What a Difference a Dog Makes: Big Lessons on Life, Love, and Healing from a Small Pooch by Dana Jennings

I received a galley from a publisher that is not a reading group choice. But a great little book! I have to tell you about it. What a Difference a Dog Makes: Big Lessons on Life, Love, and Healing from a Small Pooch, is a charming and bitter sweet memoir by Dana Jennings. This is small book is an uplifting tale perfect for gift-giving -- dogs-lovers, everyone dealing with illness, care-givers, feel-good people.

Publisher summary. A must-read for every dog lover—a short, tender, and uplifting tale of a cancer survivor and the life lessons shared with him by his beloved family dog.

Our dogs come into our lives as “just the family pet,” but before we know it they become drinking buddies and fuzzy shrinks, playmates and Cheerios-munching vacuum cleaners, alarm clocks and sleeping partners. And, in their mys­terious and muttish ways, our dogs become our teachers.

When Dana Jennings and his son were both seriously ill—Dana with prostate cancer and his son with liver failure—their twelve-year-old miniature poodle Bijou became even more than a pet and teacher. She became a healing presence in their lives. After all, when you’re recovering from radical surgery and your life is uncertain, there’s no better medicine than a  twenty-three-pound pooch who lives by the motto that it’s always best to play, even when you’re old and creaky, even when you’re sick and frightened.

In telling Bijou’s tale in all of its funny, touching, and neurotic glory, Jennings is telling the story of every dog that has ever blessed our lives. The perfect gift for animal lovers, What a Difference a Dog Makes is a narrative ode to our canine guardian angels.

First paragraph: "Our dogs constantly surprise us. They are our four-legged verbs: They dance when we come home from work, they fetch when we fling the ball, and they come running and panting when we call their names. Dogs are miracles in the moment -- they teach us, in fact, that each moment is an absolute miracle -- and they live in the eternal present. They don't fret over past mistakes, or dwell on past glories. either. The future is always now."

Here is the trailer for the book.


An aside of my own: my feline guardian angel, Aspen

Aspen was and still is a god-sent to me. Aspen was always there to make me smile during my recovery after my two surgeries and two rounds of chemo. Cats are just like dogs, in the way, they know and feel when their owner is sick and needs their soft touch. (Aspen is the cat on the bookcase in the masthead!)

Look for What a Difference a Dog Makes: Big Lessons on Life, Love, and Healing from a Small Pooch in stores November 2.

Do you have a pet who comforted you during a stressful time?

Barbara's picture

Author On the Bookcase: Marjorie Hart, author of Summer at Tiffany

Do you remember the best summer of your life?

Summer at TiffanyMarjorie Hart's book, Summer at Tiffany, is a charming and fun memoir about Marjorie's summer of 1945, working at Tiffany & Co in New York City. She and her roommate would become the first women to work on the sales floor at Tiffany & Co. How excitingI I would love to work there -- jewels galore! Marjorie chats about her amazing summer and how amazing about book clubs are (we know that!) Welcome, Marjorie, to On the Bookcase.  

Marjorie HartIf I'd known how amazing Book Clubs were, I would have started one fifty years ago.  Now I'm finding out what I've missed. Consider the surprise one night when I knocked on the door for my first invitation.  A lovely hostess met me with a chilled stemmed glass, "Here's your Vodka Daiquiri--with a twist," she smiled, with squeals of laughter from the girls inside!  She had lifted a page from Summer at Tiffany--a night club scene in '45 when I'd tried to fit into Cafe Society.  What an opening into the book club world!

Girls--age 18-80--have welcomed me in a dozen ways: dressing in The Forties, lunching on egg-salad sandwiches, wearing their favorite pieces of jewelry (ropes of pearls, bracelets to the elbow), decorating doors like Tiffany packages or playing their favorite Judy Garland CD's.  Particularly heartwarming was the time book club members brought WWII photos of their husbands, fathers, grandfathers in uniform, or aunts who were nurses with those perky white caps. Many girls arrive dressed in Tiffany Blue, and so do I (you should see my closet!), the room awash in the trademark blue, while I bask in the conviviality of the group.

Whatever the format of the book club--and don't forget guys, too, who often belong--I love the Q&A and the stories that are shared. Books are, after all, a mode of transportation, carrying us to another time or place. And what better place to recall than that very first trip to New York City, whether it was this year or in 1945, enjoying the hottest entertainment on Broadway or seeing Frank Sinatra at the Paramount, escaping the summer heat in a penthouse pool  or in a Jantzen bathing suit at Jones Beach, shopping for a designer bag at Bergdorf's or a Dior ensemble at Bonwit Teller, meeting a date in Greenwich Village or that bar at the Astor Hotel. But always at 57th street and 5th Ave, you can find the revolving door under the Atlas Clock at Tiffany's. The same landmark, the same magic, whatever the year.

Memories and stories pour from members before  the book club hour is over.  I ask, "Are your writing your story?" With everyone so busy, compelling stories can be forgotten. Whether it's for family, friends or publication, I plead for everyone to leave a legacy of their writing. You never know what may happen!

I hope that we may meet at your book club--it's always a privilege--in person or by speaker phone.

Book Clubs are special! Thanks so much, Marjorie.

Do you remember your best summer? Please comment and you might win a large pink "diamond" key chain and a copy of Marjorie's, Summer at Tiffany

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