Category Archives: reading

Jack’s Monday Book on Wednesday

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Just to confuse everyone, Jack’s Wednesday blog post is the Monday book – –

The first thing to say before I get going is that we already knew that this book is set in the offices of the agency that handled the launching of Wendy’s best seller, ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’. Although the agency isn’t actually named in the book it’s a very open secret which New York literary agency it is. We are both, therefore, familiar with the rather old fashioned but cozy interior and the amazing collection of books lining the walls.

This is really at least two intertwining stories and I’m not sure that’s done terribly well. One is very much about the culture and characters of the agency itself, while the other is focused more on what’s going on in Rakoff’s life.

The first half of the book is mainly about her success in finding a job at what she refers to simply as ‘The Agency’, discovering how hard it is to live frugally in New York, getting to know her co-workers and being groomed by ‘The Boss’. I have to admit that I found that strand of the book unnecessarily gloomy and dark, as that’s certainly not what we experienced on or visits to the place. Something else that emerges in this early part of her book is the impression that the only famous author represented by the agency is JD Salinger, which is simply not true.

Her main job is to send form letters to fans of Salinger, who refuses to engage with them and is somewhat reclusive. She eventually strikes up something of a relationship with him on the phone and is finally on first name terms with him (Jerry and Joanna).

For me, the book really only takes off about halfway through when we begin to discover what’s going in Rakoff’s personal life. This strand is all about the self-discovery that anyone over the age of thirty will find excruciatingly familiar. It’s all about growing, maturing and making difficult decisions about what you want to do with your life.

The book ends with a jump forward to a married Rakoff with a husband and kids and a successful career as a novelist, poet and journalist.

I didn’t find this book disappointing overall, but I did find the beginning a bit heavy going.

6 out of 10 from me!

PS – it’s The Harold Ober Agency and Wendy’s agent doesn’t work there any more – – –

 

 

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Jeanne Powers’ Monday Book

 

041389b2caf661540eb4ebe445ddcf5dd96a288dThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent by his firm to a rather secluded English village in order to tie up the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow, a recently deceased elderly client. The villagers don’t seem inclined to discuss Mrs. Drablow, or anything else for that matter, though they do make Arthur welcome. At the funeral service, Arthur catches a glimpse of a woman in black lurking around the churchyard, but his inquiries are brushed aside. Resolutely, he prepares to go to Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow’s residence, which is in a marshy area accessible only at certain times due to the tides. Once there, he will be cut off from the outside world until such a time as the pony cart can cross the causeway to fetch him.

He’s going to wish he had taken a tide chart with him.

The subtitle of the book is “A Ghost Story” and that’s exactly what this is, in the best sense of the phrase. The old fashioned setting, the formal narration, even the nature of the story itself harkens back to those wonderful early ghost tales where the chills and thrills came from the mind and not blood spatter. Hill has perfectly captured the flavor of these Victorian tales . It’s beautifully written; Arthur, the narrator, is looking back at an event which shaped his life and he tells his tale without hyperbole or exaggeration. It has the ring of authenticity.

The book is just so wonderfully atmospheric. I could practically smell the sea air and shivered a bit in the dampness. While there were definitely warning signs, the book wasn’t over laden with signs and portents. The villagers may not have been over communicative, but there was nary a pitchfork nor cackling crone in sight. Arthur enjoys a hearty meal at the inn, a warm fire and a comfortable bed. The skies are blue and largely clear but cold. No air of menace hangs overhead.

The haunted aspects come later.

The ending is abrupt and I was taken aback at first, but it is the perfect ending. He has told his tale; there’s no analyzing or rationalization that this might have been just his imagination. This is what happened and, like the villagers, he has no wish to discuss it further.

There is a theatrical production of the book and there has been at least two movie versions but I don’t think either could ever capture the book, especially not the ending.

 

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Kate Belt’s Monday Book

51YTWanqMVL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Monday Book – My Abandonment

My Abandonment, a novel by Peter Rock, was inspired by a local news story about a Vietnam war veteran and his 13 year-old daughter living off the grid in Forest Park, a huge municipal nature reserve in Portland, Oregon.  Anyone who has hiked this 5,100 acre, 7 mile long park will find the story credible.

When discovered by authorities after off-trail hikers report suspicious traces of the makeshift home, the daughter was found to be highly intelligent, adequately nourished, well-educated having been home schooled, and in good health. She had not been neglected nor abused in any way. After the two are discovered and captured by police, the story turns into an emotional page -turner wondering how it will end. Will child protective services leave the family together? Can they? What will happen to the dad? Will the girl end up in foster care?

This novel is fast paced and heart tugging. All of the characters are engaging and evoke empathy, with everyone doing the best they can and rooting for the best possible outcome for this family.

Last year a movie based on the novel was filmed in Portland, under the title Leave No Trace. After premiering at Sundance a few weeks ago, it has been purchased by both national and international movie studios, so hopefully will be in theaters soon.

Reviewed by Kate Belt

 

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Things I Learned during Writing Residency

19226005_10154761056583505_1735351353313373426_nThings I have learned (some about myself, others about writing) during this residency:

Crocheting is as important as writing. Find your BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT thing and do it. You don’t need any more reason than that, so long as it’s not killing the household budget. If what you like is expensive or takes time your family can’t give you, see if you can pull a little dangling thread somewhere to get a small marked bit of time and space. You need it in life even more than writing.

The value of silence: it is tempting to tune into online TV during crochet time, the radio while we drive. Do without every so often. Sit and listen to what you’re thinking about, and be surprised at the connections that form because of the silence.

Don’t lose sight of places you like to be. Until I got to Fayetteville, I had forgotten how soothing, how inspiring, being in the woods is. Church, ball game, bathtub: wherever you go to get your writer on, don’t let anyone keep you from it.

Do new stuff because it’s new. This could be writing, finding a new place to hike, visiting a different town, cooking something weird, trying an intense craft pattern. Bust out of your comfort zone.

Know what you believe. I believe in Jesus. After that I’m listening. Right now polarities are oppositional in politics, religion, even how to cook lasagna. Every idea space is full of debates and hurricanes. Listening is good. Keeping one’s mouth shut is good. Usually people don’t want to know what you think; they want to tell you what they think. Let them; it’s grist for the writing mill, and not difficult to shake off what they will enjoy as a power move. It makes GREAT character study. Don’t get excited; get a notebook.

Draft fast; edit slow. My latest manuscript of 65K words drafted in three weeks. It was crap but had great bones. I set it aside for three weeks, then edited, sent to readers, edited again. The polished draft is with NYC’s publishing deities. Time plus chair plus keyboard makes drafts; fallow time plus finessing makes books.

Work with other writers in a bordered capacity. I’m fortunate to teach for Memory2Memoir and mentor writing educators with American NewMedia Foundation. What other people struggle with, how other people choose to tell stories, invigorates your writing. That said, offer too many consults and your time will disappear. When I sat down to do “other writer stuff” besides drafting or editing my manuscript, how much “other writer stuff” there was startled me.

Enter contests carefully. Writers can spend their lives looking for and finding them at $25 entry fee per. Like a plot itself, getting sidetracked to tell a wonderful story about some minor character may be fun, the writing great, but it doesn’t advance the overarching narrative. Entering contests because you don’t know what to write about yet? Awesome, keep going. Entering contests as avoidance to writing your book? Nope.

Have simple foods on hand. Peanut butter and apples were my staples, plus Trader Joe’s frozen polenta for hot meals. When you’re knee-deep in plot yet hungry, you can keep going.

Hope these are useful to you. I’ve loved my time at Lafayette Flats.

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Filed under between books, crafting, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

GINA DUNCAN’S MONDAY BOOK

“The Secret to Hummingbird Cake” by Celeste Fletcher McHale

 

26893373For over two years, I have been reading mostly historical fiction and suspense/thriller mystery books.  Not wanting to get “burned out” or “stuck” on the same types of books, I thought I’d try reading a contemporary Christian or southern women’s fiction book.  By making a change in my reading genres, I discovered a new author and her first book. (As an avid reader, I am open to reading new or “new to me” authors’ books.)  Celeste Fletcher McHale’s book “Secret to Hummingbird Cake” was such a wonderful change for me.

In case you didn’t know, the South is not only famous for good manners, great football, juicy gossip, but also delicious food. Most of the time food and maybe the recipe is shared with extended family and/or true friends. Since Hummingbird Cake is one of my favorite cakes and one that I make for my family’s dinner every Christmas Eve, I was drawn to this book by its title and the cover of the book, a Hummingbird Cake.
It’s been a long time that I’ve read such an emotional book which made me laugh and cry, sometimes close together or maybe simultaneously. (And yes, women can cry and laugh at the same time!) While reading “Secrets to Hummingbird Cake,” there were times when I wanted to even scream out loud and shake some sense into the characters. But when three truly devoted, life-long friends with such different personalities get together, you never know what can happen. Sure, I didn’t agree with some of the language or choices made, but this book is a wonderful story about friendship, forgiveness, and faithfulness.

I won’t spoil the ending of this book.  But I can’t remember reading a book that kept me so enthralled that I not only read it in one sitting, but I also stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it.  “Secrets to Hummingbird Cake,” is one of my all-time favorite books, and I am looking forward to reading more books by Ms. Hale.

 

Gina Duncan

 

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The Sweater

I came to Charlottesville for the VA Festival of the Book and enjoyed my day out, eating excellent foods from distinctive cooking traditions and haunting yarn shops. Yesterday I listened to three writers in two panels discuss their work and how it comes together, and it was good info. My panel is this morning, talking about Appalachia as stereotype and reality in economics, foster care, and history.

IMG_3588But I have been these last ten weeks in Fayetteville, West Virginia, a town with a different ethos. This is what I wore in Fayetteville quite a bit, and people would stop me and say, “I love that t-shirt, and your sweater is beautiful. Did you make it yourself?” I saw one woman cross the street to come talk to me, and the first thing she did was fondle my sweater.

Here in Charlottesville, the city of wealth, people are not lame or demeaning. Don’t get that idea. But they look at my sweater and avoid making eye contact. The night I pulled into the hotel at 11:30 pm, lugging my worldly goods in a laundry basket (didn’t have any luggage with me at the writing residency) the desk clerk said, “May I help you?” When I said “Welch,” she looked at me for a moment, then blinked.

“Oh, you have a reservation.” And her fingers flew. So it was only a second there that she wondered why this road-haggard woman with the dandelion fluff hair and the fuzzy sweater carrying a laundry basket was standing at the counter.

Friday, I went out with my sweater to see the world, Charlottesville style. On the Pedestrian Mall (socks $25, earrings $30) people glanced at my sweater and looked away again. I know what they were thinking, “Gee, I wish I had a sweater that pretty.”

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Avanti o Popolo, Alla Riscossa.

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to tradition and appears on Thursday –

OK – I’m going to dive in!

As an ex-teacher I’ve obviously been following the battle waged by my WV colleagues and it reminded me very much of the situation in Scotland at the height of Maggie Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister.

The Scottish teachers were the only group to actually win a strike against her and it was partly through the same solidarity that the brave and solidly united teachers of WV have shown.

But something else I’ve begun to see – that’s the young folk all over this country who are emerging and aren’t intimidated. Right now it’s about gun control but that’s sure to lead to other things. I wonder if there’s just the possibility that we might see a revival of the movements of the 60s and 70s that would bring about some change?

It’s so tiring and frustrating to be continuing all the time to fight back and it mostly means going out there either on the street or into hostile territory. Many people have paid a terrible price for doing that and many more likely will!

But here’s the really scary thing. In the US and the UK there’s effectively a two party system and that makes it so easy for the vested interests and the big corporations to simply pay them both off. That seems to be exactly what’s happening. Of course the argument is always to get elected on a party ticket and then change things from within. All I can say is that there are hardly any examples of full-time professional politicians that I see who haven’t been bought – either with brown envelopes or ermine cloaks – or both.

Things appear to work better in those European countries that use voting systems that promote multi-party coalitions but I don’t see any likelihood of the folk benefiting from the existing system ever agreeing to that.

So, for now, there doesn’t seem to be much alternative than to be inspired by the WV teachers and the young folk around the country! Of course you can also visit your local bookstore and find lots of great books about community activism – such as Randy Shaw’s excellent ‘The Activist’s Handbook’!

activism

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