TOP TEN FAVORITE
DISCUSSIBLE BOOKS OF 2010
What was your favorite discussible book of 2010? There was one run-away favorite of hundreds of book groups, and it was - the envelope, please! - The Help by Kathryn Stockett! Reading Group Choices just announced the Top Ten List reported by thousand of book clubs representing over 100, 000 members in their annual survey.
It seems that a great many book group members could relate their personal experiences to the characters', whether they were from the South or elsewhere. In fact, it seems that discussions of The Help were especially lively if the members originated from different areas of the Country.
"We are a group of women with very diverse backgrounds, and each brought the feelings of the time described in the book at that time of our lives. Perhaps the most enlightening meeting in a long time," says Barb of The Read 'Em and Eat Book Club (Egg Harbor Township, NJ). "We have a mixture of 'Southerners and Northerners' who are part of our group, and it was wonderful talking from each of the gal's perspectives based on where they lived," echos Carmilia of The Mission Swamp Book Group (Murrells Inlet, SC).
Still, 42% of the book groups who chose The Help as their favorite live in the South. "We're in the South, and it hit home," says Maureen of the Whisperwood Book Club (Cary, NC). When asked why they chose The Help, Cindy of Butterbeans and Fudge (Mount Olive, MS) said simply, "We are proud Mississippians!"
Of course, the author's portrayal of the characters really added to the book's appeal, too. As an example, read what Phyllis' Read Between the Wines (Hopewell Junction, NY) book group thought: "The story was so real, the characters so strong and brave. We have a woman in our group who grew up in the south and could talk about what it was like in the 60's through her personal experience. As a group we all felt outraged about how these women were treated and felt such compassion for them."
Congratulations to Kathryn Stockett for winning the #1 spot!
The whole top ten list? OK, here they are!
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
What was your favorite discussible book of 2010?
Author On the Bookcase
So thrilled to welcome Lisa Scottoline, author of Save Me, Think Twice, Look Again, and 13 other novels! Save Me is the story of a woman who tries to save her child, tries to save another, and finally, ends up saving herself. Lisa's new book will have readers wondering just how far they would go to save the ones they love.
Lisa chats with us about her books, life, love, and the mother-child bond. "It is inborn, and cultivated, both, and it powers most of my thoughts and hopes, worries and fears."
People say you should write what you know, and while I agree, I think that doesn't go far enough.
I think you should write what you feel.
Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this, because it’s taken me almost twenty years and twenty books to figure it out.
Call me slow on the uptake.
Let me explain what I mean by write what you feel. I’m what’s known as a people person. I love people, and so it’s no surprise that characterization and relationships between people are the strongest part of my novels.
That’s where my heart is.
That’s what I feel.
Relationships between girlfriends, women and men, and family members populate every page of mine, and I like it that way. I try to write an entertaining story with a fast-moving plot, but what I want you to remember, when you close the book, is the people between the covers. Not to get too English major-y on you, but the fact is that characterization and plot are the same thing.
We are what we do, after all.
So to stay on point, it occurred to me that when I look at my life, the most important relationship to me, and the one that abides time and even space, is my relationship to my daughter, Francesca.
In other words, it’s all about the mother-child relationship.
I love her more than I can say, and I’m in the words business, so I should be fired. And as she’s grown up and moved out, I’ve gained a new perspective on her that makes me want to write more and more about that relationship.
Paradoxically, now that she’s moved out, I think about her more. I see us with new eyes. And our relationship has changed and grown to one between two adults, I still remain her parent, no matter how old she gets.
Motherhood has no expiration date.
I used to think that I felt our relationship so intensely because I’m a single mother an she’s an only child. In fact, I remember that she came home from grade school one day and asked this priceless question:
“Mom, if I’m an only child, does that mean you’re an only mom?”
But now that I’m a new empty nester, and comparing notes with all of my girlfriends, I’ve come to the conclusion that the intensity of the mother-child bond doesn’t turn on how many children you have, or if you have a hubby or not. It’s inborn, and cultivated, both, and it powers most of my thoughts and hopes, worries and fears.
(As the kids say.)
So it makes sense that later in my life, which is now, I’d turn to writing more and more about the mother-child relationship.
I’d written about it in Final Appeal, which won an Edgar, but hadn’t returned to it often in the past, for one very practical reason – in a suspense novel, you need a mom getting herself in trouble, and if she did that with a kid, you wouldn’t like her much.
Neither would I.
I needed a fictional sitter, and you know how hard those are to come by.
I returned to moms and children in Look Again, and I think the strength of the bond between a mother and her child gave the story an enormous force and emotional power.
If I don’t say so myself.
And I think the same is true of Save Me.
It’s intense, the story of a woman who tries to save her child, tries to save another, and finally, ends up saving herself. I think any mother will find themselves in this book, and wonder what they’d do if they were in its heroine’s shoes.
And if you’re a mother, you could be in her shoes.
Tomorrow, or the next day.
We never know where life will lead us, but we mothers know we can cope, and lead, and nurture, and love.
Because that’s our job, to me, sometimes I feel as if I were put on earth to be a mother.
I feel it.
And when you read Save Me, I bet you’ll feel the same way.
So open the book.
Thanks so much, Lisa, for sharing your thoughts of mothering and reminding us that, no matter what, "we can cope, and lead, and nurture, and love."
"Are you a good mother if you save your child from disaster? What if it means sacrificing another's child? In Save Me, Lisa Scottoline walks readers into this charged moral dilemma and then takes them on an intense, breathless ride. You won't be able to put this one down." --Jodi Picoult, NY Times bestselling author of Sing You Home and House Rules
Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling and Edgar® Award-winning author of sixteen novels. She has twenty-five million copies of her books in print in the United States, and she has been published in twenty-five countries. She teaches a course called Justice & Fiction at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater. She lives in Philadelphia with an array of disobedient pets.
Learn more about Lisa.
Author On the Bookcase
I'm excited to welcome Sarah Winman, author of When God Was a Rabbit, to On the Bookcase. Sarah's novel reveals the love of a brother and a sister, unwinding over many years -- backlit by historical events and cultural references.
From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, When God Was a Rabbit follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own. When God Was a Rabbit is a love letter to true friendship and fraternal love.
Here, Sarah talks about her book and the way she tried "to stop the film. I wanted to give people a second chance, a way of viewing the world and their relation to the world with different eyes."
How would I describe this book to a friend? Primarily, I would call it a love story between a brother and a sister—a story of how secrets are forged in childhood and are carried through to adulthood. Intertwined with this story is a parallel story of best friendship between two very unlikely people who actually follow a very similar path, and how that emerges later on. It’s also a book about starting over, of being able to start over. We’ve all had the feeling of sometimes looking at our life and wanting time to stop, wanting to put it into reverse, wanting to change things. For the majority of people, that’s not possible and they’re faced with the natural consequences of what life brings. I wanted to stop that process. I wanted to make it magical in a way. It’s not perfect, but it allows people to break what they think is going to happen in a story—and actually brings something more joyous back to life.
Violence—and therefore the senselessness of violence—is also a theme that punctuates the book. The story opens with the narrator, Elly’s, birth in 1968, and attention is drawn to three moments of violence that happened that year. This is followed by an unexpected accident that claims the lives of Elly’s grandparents, followed by the political bombings of the seventies, followed by dark strands of abuse, followed by John Lennon’s death, followed by Princess Di’s death, and so on—vivid moments of violence that act as a backdrop to the innocence of a family rolling like scraggy tumbleweed through a suburban landscape, gentle, loving, and so unaware. Until the moment, that is, when this dark side of life reaches out to them and engulfs them, and acts as a catalyst for change. And of course, as most people know, that moment is 9/11. I offer no commentary on the violence witnessed, no judgment either. It simply exists as violence does and will continue to exist; as Elly comments in the book: “This will happen again.” And had the book’s time frame extended beyond 2001 the atrocities of Bali in 2002, Madrid in 2004, and London in July 2005 would all have been written about or mentioned.
That 9/11 is written about in this book has drawn sharp intakes of breath from some people, total acceptance from others, and outright criticism further afield. I understand all reactions, but never felt that I didn’t have the “right” to write about this moment, as some people have suggested. But writing about such a traumatic historic event comes with great responsibility, and I knew that the only way through was to be guided by respect and honesty, and so I wrote my own story of that day exactly as it is written in the book. I got up and walked toward Soho that morning. I veered off down Charing Cross Road to get tickets to see a Vermeer exhibition I had wanted to see. I didn’t stop at Zwemmer bookshop as I usually did. I got my ticket—a three o’clock viewing—I walked to Soho, went to Bar Italia, sat outside, and ordered a macchiato with a Baci on the side and watched life pass. I felt a tap on my shoulder and was ushered inside. The image was on the screen. And so began the start of the phone calls. That was when it became my story—when it became millions of people’s horrific story. When I stood, knowing the world had so suddenly, so violently changed.
The subject of the later part of this story has sometimes been greeted as “implausible,” and in many ways it is supposed to be, because I am attempting to bring someone back to life. In the same implausible way that a rabbit speaks in the first half of the book, there is an element of magic and make-believe that weaves its way through the storyline and calls for the suspension of disbelief. It rears its head again in the darker, adult part of the book—a time when the coat of unquestionable faith that children wear so effortlessly has been carelessly shed.
So when I have talked about my book being about starting again, it is because I did not want the inevitability of a situation to play out and throw a family into grief and suffering. I wanted to stop the film. I wanted to give people a second chance, a way of viewing the world and their relation to the world with different eyes. That does not necessarily mean a happy ending; simply a desire to be given another chance and to live life differently. This is not a book about 9/11, but an homage to family, to relationships, and to love in all its forms.
Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing your "element of magic and make-believe."
“Winman’s debut boasts one of the more endearingly unconventional families in a while. A freshly rendered tale of growing up and living in the world by a late-starting author with a bright future.”—Kirkus Reviews
I was at Quail Ridge Book & Music (Raleigh, NC) last week for their semi-annual Book Club Bash. Nancy Olson and her so smart staff have welcomed me for five years. It is always such a great time listening to staff picks and, then, the book club audience chimes in about their recent book club picks. I always learn some much.
Wine, book chat, and book clubs!
The American Booksellers Association announced the finalists for the 2011 Indies Choice Book Awards.
Independent booksellers will vote and the winners will be announced on April 7. This year's winners and finalists will be honored at ABA's Celebration of Bookselling Author Awards Luncheon on Tuesday, May 24.
From their list, what books would you pick as winners? Let us know on the RGC Facebook page or comment here. You might win some free books!
Author On the Bookcase
I'm excited to welcome, Aine Greaney, author of Dance Lessons. Aine's novel tell the story of Ellen Boisvert who discovered her late husband, Fintan, was not an orphan at all -- his mother, Jo, is living in a lakeside village, the westside of Ireland. Ellen, a thirty-nine-year-old American prep school teacher, packs her bags and boards a plane to Ireland to reveal the secrets of Fintan's family. Deeply rooted in the Irish landscape and sensibility, Dance Lessons shows how Ellen reconciles with Fintan's past and learns to heal the wounds.
"Is it a burden or a curse to be labeled 'an Irish writer'?” Aine chats with us about being labeling as "a Irish writer."
Fifteen years ago, I attended a reading and presentation by the late, great Irish author, John McGahern (Amongst Women, The Barracks).
Afterward, during the question and answer session, a young newspaper reporter stood up to ask McGahern, “As an Irish writer, do you consider--”.
“--No such thing,” said McGahern (I’m paraphrasing). “No such thing as an Irish writer.”
A hush fell over that afternoon audience. Wait, hadn’t the local university billed this gig as an “Irish-author event?"
McGahern explained: “I’m a writer who happens to be from and live in Ireland,”
But a writer is a writer is a writer.
Is it? As authors, can we actually separate our national identities from our work and books? And, as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, is it a burden or a curse to be labeled “an Irish writer?” As readers, when we plunk down our money for an Irish book, is there a defined set of expectations for a book that hails from the Emerald Isle?
Yes. I first learned this with my first ever publishing rejection. I had sent out a query letter, synopsis and sample chapters proposing a collection of my personal essays to a small, literary press. Back then, this neophyte popped that package in the mail and started planning my book tour.
A month later, the rejection letter dropped into my mail box. In the letter, the acquisitions editor said that she loved my writing. BUT … “these stories simply don’t do justice to a country as beautiful as Ireland.”
I checked and re-checked my original pitch letter to her. Had I inadvertently promised a travelogue? A kind of expanded Fodor’s Guide of Ireland? A book of castles and meadows and Guinness signs outside brightly painted pubs? No. True to the personal essay genre, my proposed book was a set of first-person stories. Some even included some nerdy-dry statistics and research. But presumably, this editor had read “Ireland,” and “Irish writer” and expected something quite different. And I had disappointed.
Sometimes, I see this same reader-disappointment during some of my public readings or presentations. Audiences are gracious and engaged and ask really smart questions. Some even shed a tear at the sad parts. But afterward, I feel like it’s these sad or serious parts (of the book) that leave some people feeling shortchanged. “I thought this would be different,” one woman said to me at a small-town library. She added, “I came here for a fun Irish night out.”
An Irish night out. Fun.
Of course. I got it. I should have been funny. Or funnier. Right? Even when I’ve written a short story about a terminal illness or an essay about leaving my family, somewhere in there, somewhere behind that lectern or on that written page, I was supposed to make `em laugh.
From Ned Devine to Barry Fitzgerald, we have this national reputation as a country of back-slapping, quick-witted jokesters. Or, as one author wrote about her research on the Irish in America: “You can always depend on the Irish to get the joke.”
In my personal life, as a wife and colleague, a sister or neighbor, I do get the joke. People tell me that I have a quick wit and that I can find the funny side of the darkest things or my own mishaps.
But ultimately, I think the joke’s on me if I only give my readers “an Irish story.” Oh, yes, even when I’m reading or writing it in an Irish accent, even when the setting is on a hilltop, rural farm, my story should ultimately be about them. It should be the mirror of our shared existence. It should hail from that middle ground where readers from any place or country can meet this Irish writer's sensibility.
Thanks, Aine, for your idea of writers and readers sharing "the middle ground."
Praise for Aine Greaney
"Clean, precise, rhythmical and original, Greaney’s prose manages to negotiate a wide space of injury, geography and joy. She keeps her fingers on the pulse and recognizes that the universal is found in the heart of the local. . . ."—Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin
Did anyone read Enid Blyton's books growing up? Some of her books included the Famous Five series (21 novels, based on four children and their dog), the Five Find-Outers and Dog series (15 novels, five children regularly outwit the local police) as well as the Secret Seven (15 novels, a society of seven children who solve various mysteries).
I loved her books! My British grandmother sent them over to me from England.
A new unpublished manuscript has been found. YAY! Though they say she might have written it at the end of her life when she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
In these modern times, many of her books have been edited to remove passages that were deemed racist or sexist. (Just like the Mark Twain/Huck Finn issue, as of late.) My thought is let the work stand as is -- it shows the time and place when written.
I'm excited about the new discovery and maybe will go the the exhibition displaying her work, which will run from 2012-2013 at Newcastle Upon Tyne children's book museum.
"One of the deacons stood and said to the preacher's back, "She were beaten down by hate."
"By hate," someone agreed.
"Killed in the street."
The preacher turned to look at the man. 'That's the truth, Deacon Hull. Hate killed our sister. But the love she lived will triumph over the sin that took her away." -- p. 228. The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew (April 2011)
I think this will be a great reading group pick.
Teaser 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. Share the title & author.
What is your TT, today?
Author On the Bookcase
I'm excited to welcome Claudia Sternbach, author of Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses. Claudia takes a unique platform to tell her story. Kisses -- a father's kiss, first love kiss, best friend kiss -- tell the tale about small and, sometimes big, moments in one's life. This book is Claudia's life in her kisses.
Kiss and tell, Claudia!
One Kiss is Never Enough
by Claudia Sternbach
It wasn't that I sat down one day and decided to write a book about kisses. I am not that clever. But ever since my memoir Reading Lips A Memoir of Kisses sold to Unbridled Books people have said things to me like, "Brilliant!" Or, "Why didn't I think of that?" As though I actually had made a plan and then stuck to it.
Oh how I wish my mind worked that way. But the truth is I am much more helter skelter. I don't even match up my socks when putting them away. Actually, I don't even put them away. What happened was that like many writers, a tiny seed of an idea lodged itself in my brian, like a piece of spinach between two teeth, and stayed. That seed was the memory of a boy I had known in elementary school. His name was Teddy. I loved him. And there was a rumor he was going to try to kiss me on the last day before summer vacation. I could remember every detail. So I sat down at my computer and began to write. Not because I believed it would become anything. Simply to get it down on paper and out of my head.
I was sure that much more important topics were just waiting to be explored. And once I had excised Teddy I could get back to these most valuable issues. I assumed an hour or two at my desk would take care of things nicely. I was wrong.
As I began to write more and more kept coming. I lived and breathed my childhood and could hear the kids in the school yard, feel the heat of the tar paper roof when a group of us climbed up on it during recess. Could hear the snap of bone breaking when I fell off and feel the cool cement step I sat on with the principal while waiting for my mother to come take me to the hospital.
On and on I traveled, realizing eventually that at most big moments in life there is a kiss. Romantic or maternal. Daring or unasked for. Appropriate or not even close. Say, for example, you are about to be released from visiting a convicted murderer in San Quentin Prison. Should there be a kiss? Or perhaps your boyfriend has just spent a full week sharing a room with his supposedly ex-girlfriend. Should you kiss him hello when you find him at your door? And what about when a dear loved one is about to go in for surgery and it is still dark out and no one has any idea what will happen by the end of the day. A kiss is all there is to express what you feel as she is wheeled away.
So I found my groove and just kept going. I found that like eating potato chips, one kiss story led to another, then another. It became a small group of personal essays and then a full on collection and now the bag is empty but there is, amazingly, a book -- Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses.
Thanks so much, Claudia, for sharing your story about how Reading Lips took hold and never let go. It is so true that sometimes "a kiss is all there is to express what you feel."
Reading Group Alert! Parents, childhood, friends, romance, identity, grief -- Reading Lips will produce a lively discussion.
". . . Sternbach has carefully considered how to make a life story interesting through unusual yet approachable formatting, and she throws humor, sarcasm and self-deprecation into the mix….A memorable, laugh-out-loud, cry-out-loud essay collection for both genders and all ages.”" —Kirkus Reviews
Learn more about Claudia.
Last weekend, I attended the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) in Washington, DC. But, some people call it Awesome Writers' Party! It was a blast. Panels, workshops, readings -- all about writers and their craft. I had the honor of hanging with some great writers.
On Thursday, I had dinner with a fun and talented group of women writers. Two found out that day that their books were on the NY Times best-seller list and one had been on for two weeks!
Left to right:
Tanya Egan Gibson (How to Buy a Love of Reading)
Barbara Drummond Mead (little ol' me)
Therese Fowler (Reunion, Souvenir, upcoming in May, Exposure)
Siobhan Fallon (You Know When the Men Are Gone)
Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters)
Heidi Durrow (The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, NY Times bestseller)
Caroline Leavitt (Pictures of You, NY Time bestseller)
Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters, NY Times bestseller)
Sarah Pekkanen (Skipping a Beat, The Opposite of Me).
Had a few drinks with plenty of authors writing great reading group picks. Details in subsequent posts.
AWP will be held in Chicago next year. I will be there!