A Twist on Author Events: Amy Einhorn’s “Summer Soiree”

This past Thursday morning, a tidbit that crossed my digital desktop in Shelf Awareness described a “perfect loop” of bookselling. Let’s listen in:

“This week I finished reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and it… is… AMAZING! The book was brought to my attention by a customer, who wanted a copy because it had been recommended by the amazing author, John Green. Let’s do a very basic flow chart: John Green recommends Eleanor & Park > Customer reads recommendation & contacts local bookseller to request a copy > Local bookseller puts copy on hold for customer & also grabs a copy for herself > Local bookseller reads book, loves it, and now recommends it to other customers. That, my dear book loving friends, is the book grapevine at its finest.”

–Lindsey McGuirk, Village Books, Bellingham, Wash., in the store’s newsletter (BTW Our very own Owen Curtis from Mitchell’s Book Corner just read that book and recommends it highly as well. More copies are on their way to the island as we speak.)

Thursday evening I got to live my own industry version of grape vineage when I attended an event sponsored by Penguin Books: a “Summer Soiree” in which well-known editor Amy Einhorn showcased the authors of three upcoming novels. This was the last of five stops around the country for this group, focused on gathering regional booksellers to meet and mingle with the authors.

The unique thing here is that it was a case of an editor with arguably more household name recognition than the authors. As Penguin’s website says: “The overarching tenet of Amy Einhorn Books is to hit the sweet spot between literary and commercial—intelligent writing with a strong narrative and great storytelling.” It’s a winning combination, witness the success of  the first title in her imprint: the number-one New York Times bestseller The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which has sold more than 10 million copies in the United States. Her track record is such that us book buyers pay attention to what she’s up to, hence my journey off-island.

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Pictured here is Amy Einhorn on the left, introducing the first speakers, Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman, co-authors of Freud’s Mistress which arrives in July. They have a solidly researched and provocative premise: that Sigmund Freud carried on a long-running affair with none other than his sister-in-law. (!) Can’t wait to dive in to that one and see what they imagine Freud has to say for himself. (Perhaps it’s about time we shook up the underpinnings of modern pscyhology–society as a whole doesn’t seem too well-adjusted anyway…)

FreudsMistress

Next up was Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist, coming in May. Suzanne is a young woman who completed her novel while working on her Ph.D. Seriously impressive! The novel is set in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during Prohibition era, when a charismatic typist joins the steno pool of a police precinct. Much was made of the reliability or lack thereof of the narrator–another typist in the station–and of the fact that this book has a great twist of an ending. Love that.

OtherTypist

Lastly spoke the charmingly accented Anne-Marie Casey, author of No One Could Have Guessed the Weather, coming in June, who had traveled from her home in Dublin to rock the tour. Her dry wit was evident in her brief remarks, and as this is the one novel of the three set in modern times I know that voice will shine through the words on the page.

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As to what unified the three, Amy had this to say: “As a group, these novels show us the arc of women’s progress over the last hundred years. They don’t compete with each other – they complement each other on the list this summer.”

So here’s my soon-to-be-closed loop: Bookseller trusts an editor > Editor chooses three authors to feature to the point of taking them all over the country > Regional reps gather booksellers > This bookseller crosses the Sound (and drives back to the Cape in a bizarre blizzard) to attend >  Book buyer gets hooked by the books’ teasers so she reads them > If she likes them she will promote them to the  reader > Reader will trust the bookseller and the editor, both.

While we all have heard ad nauseum that this book business of ours is changing, one thing that will always stay constant is the importance of the personal connections in these loops. We definitely lose something when we let algorithms take the place of this kind of soulful exchange.

-Wendy

I extend my thanks to my Penguin reps Karl Krueger and Ann Wachur, as well as to Amy Einhorn and the esteemed authors for including me. It was a much appreciated effort and lovely evening. All books may be pre-ordered on our website or by calling us at 508-228-4000 or 508-228-1080.

A Week in Winter

week in winter

I was surprised to get a piece of mail at the bookstore that was addressed to me. Random House didn’t have any reason to single me out, or so I thought. But as it happens, Wendy had signed me up to be the store’s audio book representative and inside my personalized parcel were three new audio books for my listening enjoyment.

Selecting a book to read is kind of a big deal for me, since I’m such a slow reader, it’s a commitment to choose something that will take up so much of your time. There’s something a little different about my commitment to audio books. Even though they take up more time, (10-20 hours usually) I’m able to do other things. I listen to the books while I’m walking somewhere, cleaning the house, working on my art. I don’t have to dedicate time specifically to the book. It can be argued that it cheapens the experience a bit, and I’ll admit that I do miss some things. But, I’ve always loved being read to and I don’t always make the free time to sit down with a physical book so the audio book works for me.

I singled out Maeve Binchy‘s A Week In Winter from my tripod of choices. I’m a virgin to Binchy’s written word but was pleased to find out she wrote the book Circle of Friends, that the movie of the same name was based on, a movie I adored in high school. (It was the 90s, who wasn’t a sucker for Chris O’Donnell?) chris o'donnell So with Mr. O’Donnell dreamily in mind, I began my 11 hour sojourn to Stoneybrook, Ireland.

This novel is a little fluffier than my norm. A little more Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult than Jeannette Winterson or Ali Smith, but it was a nice escape. It’s a light-hearted, warm read for the last cold days of winter. It’s also a great vacation for those who couldn’t find the time or the capital to break away from their daily grind.

It’s a story about Chicky Starr. An Irish woman who leaves home to follow the man she loves to America. When the young lust flickers and fades, Chicky, too ashamed to return to Ireland to hear “I told you so,” creates a whole life of lies around the relationship she doesn’t actually have with Walter. She weaves a tale of love, marriage, and eventually when she’s ready to move back to Ireland, Walter’s death. This is the first half of the book, how Chicky leaves and comes back to Stoneybridge and how Stone House, the mansion-turned-guesthouse on the sea, comes into her possession. It’s also the most polished.

The construction of the rest of the novel, each chapter being a new character (a life from beginning to end or at least until it ends up at Stone House) doesn’t have the same finished feel. I enjoyed following each group or individual on their journey to Stone House, even if it was cropped a bit short after the extensive intro. Some characters over lap others and some stand alone but still have a connection with the story and with the inn. There is a motley crew once the house is full and the telling of each character’s arrival wasn’t always linear in time so I found myself questioning where we were in the story a few times, but it does all come out in the wash.

I liked the book but, not being my usual genre, I wasn’t sure if I was missing something. After reading other reviews, the book received a fair share of thumbs up, especially from tried and true Binchy fans. They compare this book to her earlier novels, which I guess is good. I also learned that Binchy passed away in June 2012 just a short time after finishing this book, but it was mentioned in a few of these reviews that she didn’t seem to finish editing it and that the end was a bit rushed. There are several awkward transitions and some characters that are not as well developed as she’s usually capable of. However, the general consensus is that it is still Maeve Binchy and a comforting and thoughtful story.

To sum it up, It’s not a book I would have normally picked up, but I do love Ireland and it was a great book to listen to while I performed all my daily tasks. I can see it being a great book to curl up with by a fire and get lost in as our own winter winds down. If you’re normally a fan of Nicolas Sparks, it’s totally worth spending A Week in Winter.

The Painted Girls

painted girls

“No social being is less protected than the Young Parisian girl – by laws, regulations, and social customs.” -Le Figaro, 1880.

So begins Cathy Marie Buchanan’s novel The Painted Girls, a zeitgeist for La Belle Epoque Paris.

The story is told in alternating chapters captured through the eyes of Marie van Goethem and her older sister, Antoinette van Goethem. Marie and Antoinette, two of the surviving daughters of a laundress and a late tailor, grow up in The Breda, a squalid district of Paris known for its poverty and prostitution. Antoinette, the oldest, dances as an extra at The Paris Opera where she brings her younger sisters to tryout for coveted spots in the corps de ballet. The opera house is where the sisters encounter the men that will forever change their lives.

Antoinette accepts an invitation from a young brute named Emile Abadie to join him for a drink, beginning the thread of an impassioned and tortured romance which weaves itself into the novel. Antoinette is a loving older sister, but also a young girl hardened by life, defensive and quick to lie even if it’s just for the sake of lying. She falls for this tall, heavy browed boy with haystack hair, and it’s Emile who leads Antoinette away from her sisters and into the Parisian underbelly.

Marie, on the other hand, is singled out of the Petite Rats, the preadolescent ballet students, by Monsieur Degas, a quiet artist who captures the graceful girls behind the scenes. Marie is not the best technical dancer but is determined to be elevated to the corps de ballet, spending hours practicing, even taking extra lessons with money she earns from her job at the bakery. She works sunup to sundown so we can’t be surprised when this young fragile girls of fourteen begins to crumble under the weight of such a life.

In the first chapter of the novel, Buchanan inserts an article from Le Figaro about Cesare Lombroso, Italian Criminologist. Lombroso, founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology, stated in his theory of anthropological criminology that criminality was inherited and that someone “born criminal” could be identified by physical defects. These defects were considered to be representative of a primitive type of man, reminiscent of apes or primates. Lombroso even stated that specific criminals, such as thieves, rapists and murderers could be distinguished by specific characteristics.

This is where things really get interesting. Marie reads this article in the opening of the book and worries about her own criminal destiny. She has the protruding jaw and large forehead the article assures her will seal her fate as a delinquent but it isn’t until Degas singles her out as a model that the connection between Lombroso’s theories and Marie’s worries solidifies. Degas’ passion for phrenology seems to be what draws his eye to Marie van Goethem. The young girl modeled for the artist from 1878 to 1881. A number of recognizable works depict Marie; Dancer with Fan, Dancing Lesson, and Dancer Resting. The most famous work, however, is Little Dancer Aged 14.

When the sculpture was revealed at The Sixth Exposition of the Independent Artists in 1881 it met mixed reviews. Deemed the only tryly modern attempt at sculpture in one Parisian newspaper, the majority were shocked by the piece comparing the dancer to a monkey and an Aztec and referred to her as a “flower of precocious depravity” with a face “marked by the hateful promise of every vice” and “bearing the signs of a profoundly heinous character.” She looked like a medical specimen, they claimed, partially because Degas exhibited the sculpture inside a glass case. (Coincidently, a reproduction of this sculpture rests by the register at Mitchell’s Book Corner. I never noticed it until after reading this book.)
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Antoinette’s story is tangled in criminality as well. Her lover, Emile Abadie, becomes another subject of Degas during his murder trial. The young man, charged with murder, unknowingly poses for Degas’ piece, Criminal Physiognomies. A review of the work states, “Only a keen observer could portray with such singular physiological sureness the animal foreheads and jaws, kindle the flickering glimmers in the dead eyes, render the yellow-green flesh on which is imprinted all the bruises, all the stains of vice.” Hoping that Abadie will escape the guillotine in exchange for deportation to New Caledonia, Antoinette begins hoarding money for her own passage to the distant land, earning it any way “a flower of the gutter” can.

This novel is so heavily impregnated with historical facts, both heartbreaking and sympathetic. Reading the epilogue, I was shocked to find so many of the events in the book to have taken place and for so many characters to be real. Obviously, being a novel, liberties were taken but Buchanan largely keeps with the known facts of the van Goethem sisters’ lives and with the trials of Emile Abadie. It’s a great read for lovers of historical fiction, mystery, dance and art. I’d compare it as a more accessible Strapless, a wonderful non-fiction read about John Singer Sargent and Virginie Gautreau, the model for his controversial work, Portrait of Madame X. Lighter than non-fiction but containing truths art in Parisian society and the women who modeled for it, I give this book my full approval.

*To view Degas work mentioned in the novel visit the author’s website http://www.CathyMarieBuchanan.com/art

Assorted Fire Events

assorted fire events
David Means, who will participate in the Nantucket Book Festival in June, is an American short story writer who has published four collections and whose work often appears first in The New Yorker, The Paris Review or Zoetrope. His second book, Assorted Fire Events, which received a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a finalist for the Book Critics Circle Award when it appeared in 2000, has just been reissued.

Means’s story often deal with a troubled segment of American life, often with the lives of people who are angry, haunted, or astray. He also has a fascination, let it be said, with mortality, especially with its precariousness. In one story here, a moment of inattention and a young boy is swept from his canoe and drowns beneath the deadfall in a river. In “Railroad Incident, August 1995,” a distraught man, spavined by the death of his wife, wanders at night where he shouldn’t and is set upon by violent young men. And in “Sleeping Bear Lament,” Sam, a poor, unhappy young man romping with friends by Lake Michigan, is buried by a collapsing dune and is thought to have just gone missing.

In some of these stories the primary focus is on the central incident, often a personal disaster or a near miss. In others, our attention is drawn mainly to a person dealing with or meditating on what’s happened. Means’s vibrant prose, with its rich imagery, is very careful in the way it aims to impart the truth of each scene. Descriptions, images, emotions–in these stories, everything no matter how precise it seems–or how fitting, satisfying–is subject to slight recasting for accuracy as the narrative progresses.

In “What They Did,” the process and materials with which a construction crew working in a woodsy, suburban development hastily covers a stream the developer wants to erase from the landscape are revisited a number of times. It’s keenly important information because the workers’ slapdash job later causes the death of a little girl who is swallowed by the very ground. And there are several other instances in this volume of pits in the earth that wait to receive the unwary. There one second, gone the next is how one TV news station reports this shocking event.

We are told, of course, of the girls’ mother’s grief in that story, and some of the details of the ensuing litigation, but the story runs off toward its end with Ralph Hightower, the foreman on that reckless job, pondering his portion of guilt. Such secondary figures often appear in these stories to mourn or to lament, occasionally to rescue. Some of them, like Ralph, are “real” characters in the story, while others are the products of characters’ daydreams or hallucinations. In “The Grip,” a drifter caught between freight cars when the train unexpectedly begins to move, has to hold on precariously through a cold night as the train makes its way from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Through the night he is sustained in holding on by the vision of his mother encouraging him.

The narrator of “Sleeping Bear Lament” harbors guilt over never having apologized to Sam for having injured him in a stupid act once when they were young. After Sam’s death he plans a pilgrimage to the dunes to repent for those lost teeth and imagines that the discovery of Sam’s body was made by a guy named Mel, a compassionate worker for the Department of Natural Resources. He conjures a son of his own for Mel, who is moved to pray for Sam, and the narrator realizes that “Sam will have received more love than ever before in his life” from this product of his imagination.

David Means is not unaware of your unease when reading these stories, however gorgeously written, and he has the narrator of “What I Hope For” open that two-page story with the statement “I don’t want anyone to die in my stories anymore.” The reader might be thankful for that, but will be made perhaps a little uneasy by the closing lines, wherein the couple in the story will, if all goes well, take leave by boat from the island where they’ve spent the weekend, “the gulls dashing above the wake, and the wake itself smoothing out from the v., fading off into the eternal uproar of the North Atlantic.” Of course, we know all about that eternal uproar, but it takes on a new vividness and urgency in this author’s distinctive prose.

End of Your Life Book Club

end of your life
Working at a bookstore does lead me to the occasional white lie. Nothing like covering up a crime or purposefully giving the wrong directions. No, I just pretend sometimes to have read books that I actually haven’t. There are so many books on our shelves, I can’t possibly read every one. (It’s been mentioned, behind our Bookwork’s counter, that having a second life, parallel to this one, dedicated solely to reading would be a wonderful thing.) But since my second self has not shone it’s self I’ll just have to make do with the hours I have in this life. Which brings us to the book of the hour, The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. A fabulous book that contains a woman who squeezes every last drop out of life and her son who captures their last years and tips his hat to a hearty helping of literary greats. Schwalbe, book lover and person who has worked in the book industry (a little more in depth than myself, but similar enough), admits to fudging his literary credentials a time or two (also like me) but says, “There’s a difference between casually fibbing to a bookseller and lying to your 73-year-old mother when you are accompanying her for treatments to slow the growth of a cancer that had already spread from her pancreas to her liver by the time it was diagnosed.”

In 2007, Mary Anne Schwalbe, Will’s mother, returned from one of her many philanthropic travels to the Middle East with what doctors first diagnosed as a rare case of hepatitis. It didn’t take long before that diagnosis was reevaluated and Mary Anne was told she had pancreatic cancer and six months to live. (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by telling you that Mary Anne had a bit more time than the doctors predicted, giving those who read The End of Your Life Book Club all the more chapters and anecdotes.) Although devastated by the news, the Schwalbes’ rally in support of their mother and grandmother, the woman who had been endlessly supportive in all of their lives and each of their endeavors. The family dynamic through out the whole book is so open and powerful, you can see what a wonderful job this strong woman did raising and maintaining her family. In part, this book is about a humble woman who accomplished great things in her life, her relationship with her family (her son, Will, especially) and her battle with cancer.

The other part of the book is about books and how each book named affected the author and his mother, not just in her final years but throughout her life. The “book club” the title promises begins when Will accompanies his mother to her cancer treatments and the two find themselves talking about the books they have been reading. These discussions evolve and become more powerful when the duo begin reading and sharing the same books. A selection of these tomes parade through End of Your Life as chapter titles and set the mood for each memory or event Schwalbe shares with us. Will describes his mother’s early life in the chapter about Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar, a novel about a Jewish girl who dreams of becoming an actress, a path Mary Anne also dreamed of as a young girl. He revisits his own childhood while discussing The Hobbit and ties in the whole family with a comparison of the novel and The Chronicles of Narnia. Other books, such as Appointment in Samarra, Gilead and The Bite of the Mango are conversation pieces for the mortality and spirituality brought up in the book.

Mary Anne’s love of books was more than just a way for her son to connect to her. Will describes how consoling it could be to find her tackling a long book. “You had to have a lot of time left if you were going to start reading Bolano or Thomas or Halberstam.” Granted, Mary Anne read the end of the book first, even before her diagnoses, but her desire to lose herself in a book was a comfort to her son. He, in turn, giving her story to us, shares that comfort and connection exponentially.

This is a book about a woman with cancer but it’s not a cancer book. You never forget that Mary Anne is dying and that cancer is at fault, but it’s not overly sappy and sentimental. Mary Anne was a remarkable woman and this book is as much about her accomplishments in life as it is about her acceptance of death. The End of Your Life Book Club is a wonderful eulogy to his mother sprinkled with literary references, a book written for people who love to read. It may also please readers to know that Schwalbe will be one of the many fantastic authors in this years Nantucket Book Festival.

Cookworks

quick and easy
Every New Year’s Eve is kind of a big deal in my family’s neck of the woods. Aside from it being a national day to eat, drink and be merry it’s also my Uncle John’s birthday. If there’s a guy to eat drink and be merry with it’s this guy.john

Pork Vindaloo
I am partial to Indian food and most everyone in the Powell household is partial to heat so it was natural to turn to Madhar Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. I let John select the dish and he gravitated pretty immediately to the Pork Vindaloo. The recipe calls for either lamb or pork, I was in Iowa so… when in Rome. We also doubled this recipe from the start since we knew the shindig would get a bit deep and didn’t want any hungry folks in the crowd.

John had most of the items on our ingredients list (he spends a good chunk of time in his kitchen) and I easily found the rest at the local grocery store. While John made the spice paste, I cubed the pork butt and cut up the onion and garlic.
spice mix
ingredients
The onions go in the pan first, get them nice and medium brown. Add the garlic in with the onions for two-shakes and then it’s go-time with the paste and meat. The coconut milk is last to the mix and then you just simmer until that pork is tender.

pork plus coconut milk
We added A LOT of extra cayenne because we all love the heat, but if you follow the recipe, this is an extremely mild dish. We also simmered the whole concoction for a little over two hours while we waited for more guests to show up and because it made that pork so tender it brought one little tear to the corner of your eye… a sweet tear of tender-pork-joy.vindaloo done
Everyone at the party loved it! We just served it over rice (my Aunt Jane made that, I am horrible at rice) which also went with John’s gumbo. He makes it pretty frequently and follows the recipe in his bible, a.k.a. Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. I doubt you’ll find a bigger fan of Paul in all the land.
I gave John Tom Fitzmorris’s New Orleans Food for Christmas on the highest recommendation of Christie Cure. (I guess Prudhomme and Fitzmorris were buddies in New Orleans.) Christie said if she were stranded on an desert island and could only have five books, New Orleans Food would be one. Not a bad endorsement, but I digress. The Pork Vindaloo was a pure delight and I’d make it again. John said he’d make it again, and one of the woman at the party scooped a good portion into a to-go container. We give Madhar Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking two thumbs way up!

The Post that was Almost About “Crepes”

Well it’s about time for another installment of Cookworks, and we’re hard at work trying to decide what styllin’ cookbook is going to take the spotlight. We had a couple of choices lined up, and Dani was elbow-deep in Crepes: 50 Savory and Sweet Recipes when the unthinkable happened. A customer passing by heard us discussing the deliciously savory choices for our spotlight, and couldn’t help but buy the book right then and there. Imagine that. So we just thought we’d let everyone know that crepes are delicious, and you should definitely try one if you never have before, but we’re going to find something else to tantalize your taste-buds. Stay tuned!

p.s. The book is already on reorder.

Crepes: 50 Savory and Sweet Recipes

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